Monday, August 17, 2015

Book Review: "Because You'll Never Meet Me" by Leah Thomas

There are times I think that there are no original stories left out there, that nearly every book is a variation on a familiar theme or a retelling of something that has already been published. And then a book like Leah Thomas' Because You'll Never Meet Me comes along to prove that theory wrong. Endearing, moving, unique and tremendously engaging, I'm so glad I stumbled on this story and these wonderful characters.

Oliver is a teenage boy living with his mother in an isolated cabin in the woods. He's deathly allergic to electricity—even the simple act of handling a cellphone or a small flashlight is enough to cause life-threatening seizures. He cannot go to school, and he must live without all of the typical paraphernalia teenagers use—iPods, television, the internet, even electricity. The only people he sees on a regular basis are his mother and his doctor, but he is desperate to know what life is like in the world around him, and he wants to understand who his father was.

In an effort to help Oliver cope and combat his loneliness (in a fashion), his doctor encourages him to write letters to Moritz, a German teenager. Moritz's heart requires a pacemaker to keep it beating, and that's not his only disability. But while the two boys develop a close friendship, they can never meet, since the electricity needed to run Moritz's pacemaker could kill Oliver, and Oliver's electromagnetism could short-circuit Moritz's pacemaker.

This book is told solely in letters between the two, slowly unfurling what life has been like for these two boys who are so different from others their age. The letters uplift, amuse, and inspire the boys, as well as anger, hurt, upset, and confuse them. Both experience periods of desperate despair that the other tries to help combat, as each tries to understand the problems the other faces. And as Moritz begins to reveal secrets about another connection the two share despite living on different continents, Oliver must decide whether to continue to accept his life as it is, or try and challenge it, despite the potential complications.

While obviously there's a little of the farfetched here, particularly in the boys' ailments and disabilities, it doesn't detract from this book at all. I found the characters, particularly Oliver, Moritz, and his classmates, Fieke and Owen, so well-drawn and memorable. While some of the plot is predictable, and at times I feared that Thomas was going to take the story down a path I was dreading, she also threw in some surprises that made me smile. (And yes, for those of you who know what a sap I am, I may have teared up once or twice...or more.)

You never know when a person will walk into your life and change it for the better. And even if they don't physically walk in, Because You'll Never Meet Me is a terrific example of the power of friendship, the sacrifices we make for love, and that facing our fears can sometimes be the most difficult but rewarding thing we do. This book made my heart happy.

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