In A World Without You, Bo's school is located at the end of Pear Island. This was based on an actual island in Massachusetts called Plum Island. It's located just outside of Ipswich; half the island is residential and the lower half is a national park and wildlife refuge. In A World Without You, I added Berkshire Academy--the location of most of the book.
It honestly wasn't easy getting the setting right when I was basing it on a real place that I'd never been to before. I studied as much as I could--examining Google maps, creeping on people's vacation photographs, and even contacting the park service office for details. But nothing beat actually exploring the island.
I was actually very grateful for the fact that my research hadn't failed me. Stepping onto Plum Island was a little surreal. Sure, there wasn't a giant X-Men-style mansion/school, but everything else was pretty spot on. I particularly loved how the boardwalks snaked through the sandy, marshy part of the island, where the bird reserves were.
This view made my heart sing--when you read A World Without You, there's a scene where Bo sees two men from the past riding horseback through the marshy area. It was so hard for me to evaluate, based on books and notes, how likely this scene would be--I needed beach + water + grass + marsh + the right feel...and this right here was it. It's crazy to see something that I made up come to life, even if it was based on a real place. I don't know; it felt a little magic.
We climbed an observation tower to get a better look at the island, and I picked the spot where Berkshire Academy should be, if it were real.
And just over the scrub brush, you could the ocean. Even in July, it felt a little chilly--exactly as Bo complained about ;)
You can just see Ipswich and the neighboring towns in the distance. The mainland wasn't really that far away, but the island still felt very isolated--perfect for Berkshire.
Did you think of images like this when you read about Berkshire and Pear Island in A World Without You?
After the observation tower, we made our way down to the beach. This is at the very southern tip of the island, and the spot you're looking at is exactly where I'd put Berkshire Academy. Imagine a giant mansion made of brick with a curving driveway and a big sign out front, with Bo and Sofía inside...
To the left, the ocean. To the right, an imaginary school for superheroes ;)
We went exploring the beach for a bit--I can never refuse the sea--and I loved the shells that littered the sand.
I found a pair for Bo and Sofía.
I love this contrast--the vegatation and greenary on the left, the sand and ocean on the right. This is exactly how I envisioned Pear Island while writing it.
My mom then had the brilliant idea to write a message in the sand. Pretend Berkshire Academy is in the background...
It says, Hello Beautiful! This was the original title of A World Without You--in the first draft, Bo wrote letters to Sofía that started off with "Hello, Beautiful," and so I titled the novel after that.
Here I am, on the beach of the island where I based A World Without You, standing in front of where Berkshire Academy should be, with the original title of the book at my feet.
My job is awesome. Below is one of the boardwalks connecting the beach to the boardwalk. It looks right, but this is the part that most deviated from my imagination while writing A World Without You. Truth be told, I based those boardwalks more on some I had already been on in West Virginia, in cranberry country. But I love a good boardwalk, and this one, I think, should go right past the fireplace ruins described in A World Without You.
Can't you just see this boardwalk ending right at the fireplace?
One of the things Plum Island (and therefore my fictional Pear Island) is well known for is birds. It's a wildlife rufuge, and a well known location for bird photography. Bo is pretty dismissive of people who do this, but the birdwatchers I ran across were delightful. They tried very hard to tell me about the local birds, but alas, I am not very bird-orientated, so I just got a few picks of these lovely flocks of birds that swooped like a dark cloud over the marsh water.
Most of the boardwalks were closed due to a special bird nesting nearby, so I wasn't able to really explore the island as I wished to. One of the things I particularly wanted to discover was the ruins of an old polio camp that are located on the island.
This surprises a lot of people--in A World Without You, there's an old "sick kids' camp" as Bo calls it. This is because on the real Plum Island, Sea Haven Camp was a popular place for children with polio in the 40s and 50s. I've been able to look at a few pictures of the ruins (which may be lost to time now; I'm not sure), and I based the sick kids' camp on Pear Island off of this unique feature.
As best as I could tell, the polio camp was likely somewhere around this area. Even if it's not, this is the type of landscape I envisioned when describing my own camp in A World Without You. The slightly rolling hills, the grass overtaking the sand, the scrub brush...just image some abandoned cabins and a small pool area here...
As the sun set over my first day on tour, I couldn't help but be amazed by Plum Island. I loved how beautifully magnificent the landscape was, but what really struck me was how it was so vividly close to what I imagined my own Pear Island to be. I'd spent hours and hours researching the island, but when I actually felt it, it was so cool to see it come to life.
I know Plum Island is a real place, and I knew it when I invent Pear Island. But to see something that you'd only before seen in your head was a little bit miraculous.
Stick around all this week for more updates and travelogue of my recent tour--including a literal whale, a makeover, and a naked cowboy!
And don't forget to enter my on-going giveaway--100 people who take a photograph of A World Without You and post it online will get a free surprise gift in the mail!
More details and entry form are located here.