Ollie: I can never travel to wherever you are, because a big part of what makes me a hermit is that fact that I’m deathly allergic to electricity. This is kind of massively incapacitating, but hey—everyone has problems, right?
Moritz: Secondly, you are correct. We will not be meeting. This has little to do with your deafening personality. I am electric. Exposure to me would floor you.
In case those brief excerpts aren’t enough to highlight the differences between our two heroes, here are a few more details: Ollie’s first letter to Moritz begins “Dear Fellow Hermit,” while Moritz’s begins, more stiffly, “Oliver,” and then proceeds to criticize his handwriting. Ollie is homeschooled and has very little contact with his peers, while Moritz goes to public school and is dealing with a serious bullying issue; Ollie plays the glockenspiel, Moritz listens to old school hip hop; Ollie lives alone with his mother in Michigan, while Moritz lives with his adoptive father in Germany; Ollie is in love with the one girl he knows from the outside world, and Moritz is fascinated by the quietest boy in his class. Ollie comes off like a tail-wagging golden retriever, Moritz is more like a cat: aloof, judgey, but loving towards a deserving few. Ollie is obsessed with the idea that their conditions—in addition to needing a pacemaker, Moritz was born without eyes, and uses echolocation to get around—originated in a secret laboratory, but Moritz isn’t interested in even discussing the possibility…
(I realize that I may have chosen an excessive number of differences to highlight, but these boys are just so much fun that it was hard to whittle it down!)
The best epistolary novels feature voices that are immediately distinct and vivid and compelling, and on that front, Leah Thomas’ Because You’ll Never Meet Me entirely delivers. Even from their first letters, I was invested in the boys—both separately and as a unit—I was curious about them, and I wanted to see them happy. Once trust is established, their roles reverse a few times—they act as each other’s anchors, one will continue writing into the seeming void while the other works through depression or grief or anger—and that constantly changing dynamic makes their friendship one of the most balanced, power-wise, that I’ve seen in a long time.
There are quite a few other threads in the book—Ollie has to navigate his mother’s desire to protect him from the world, both boys struggle with romance, and yes, Ollie’s suspicions about the secret laboratory are pretty much dead on the money—and while they’re all fun, engaging, and complex, the real strength in Because You’ll Never Meet Me is in its depiction of friendship, whether long distance or immediate. Because while the primary focus of the book, of course, is on the relationship between the boys, they do eventually find face-to-face friendships, and in so doing, they discover that friendship in the physical world can be just as complicated, challenging, and rewarding as friendship via pen and paper.
In addition to running a library in rural Maine, Leila Roy blogs at Bookshelves of Doom, is a contributor at Book Riot, hangs out on Twitter a lot—possibly too much—and watches a shocking amount of television. Her cat is a murderer.