Ollie and Moritz are best friends, but they can never meet. Ollie is allergic to electricity. Contact with it causes debilitating seizures. Moritz’s weak heart is kept pumping by an electronic pacemaker. If they ever did meet, Ollie would seize. But Moritz would die without his pacemaker. Both hermits from society, the boys develop a fierce bond through letters that become a lifeline during dark times—as Ollie loses his only friend, Liz, to the normalcy of high school and Moritz deals with a bully set on destroying him.
A story of impossible friendship and hope under strange circumstances, this debut is powerful, dark and humorous in equal measure. These extraordinary voices bring readers into the hearts and minds of two special boys who, like many teens, are just waiting for their moment to shine.
Contemporary? Sci-Fi? Magical realism? I’m not sure it’s entirely possible to plonk this book into a category, and dya know what, loves? I wouldn’t want to either. Part scientific mystery and part coming of age, it’s one of the most fiercely original books I’ve read this year.
Ollie and Moritz are two teenage boys struggling to find their way in a world that isn’t quite ready for either of them. Separated by continents and extreme medical conditions, their sole means of communication are the letters that they write each other.
Fourteen year old Ollie suffers with a unique strain of epilepsy, caused by all things electrical. He lives cabin in the woods with a host of non-technological hobbies like calligraphy and origami to keep him busy. He’s never been to school, or watched TV, and his social circle is confined to his his lonely, secretive mother, his mysterious doctor and his sort-of love interest Liv. Moritz is sixteen, and he lives in Germany with his father. Aside from having a pacemaker, he also has no eyes. Mortiz isn’t blind though, instead he ‘sees’ everything through echolocation, including the looks of fear, disgust and confusion that pass over the faces of his peers at school when he takes off his goggles. When you don’t have eyes, you can’t close them, he points out.
The lives, hopes and secrets of both boys slowly unfurl through the letters that they send. The writing is sometimes sad, often funny, occasionally angry and always heartfelt. Although the two main characters are complete polar opposites, they are both equally engaging narrators. Whilst Ollie’s letters are curious and whimsical, his character and his writing rambunctious, Mortiz is more measured and less open, older in a way that isn’t visible. As the plot progresses, the boys learn things about themselves that they never thought they would.
There’s a bit of a trend in contemporary novels at the moment to blur the boundaries of reality, and I can understand that some parts of this book might feel jarring to readers looking for something more grounded. However, I thought that these mysterious, almost sci-fi elements added some intrigue to the way that the story played out. The medical conditions, whilst agreeably far-fetched, are neither here nor there when the character development is this good. Thomas’ observations about friendship, loneliness and growing up are some of the most thoughtful and accessible I’ve read in contemporary YA this year. She draws the humanity that connects us all out from beneath societal and medical labels, and because of this, the characters that she has created leap vividly from the pages.
I really enjoyed that this book focused on a complex and fulfilling platonic relationship, something which is so often neglected in the face of romance. There don’t seem to be many of these sorts of books around at the moment, and even fewer that focus on male friendships. In fact, I think this is a gloriously diverse book. Aside from Thomas’ obvious focus on disability (more of this in YA please!) she also turns her pen to LGBT+ relationships and class. These are issues that we sometimes find difficult to talk about in every day life, and the author tackles them with sensitivity and bravery; just like her protagonists.
If you’re feeling a bit out of sorts of the moment, and you want to remember what’s really important in your life: read this book. It reminded me that you never know who or what might waltz into your life and change the way you see the world. Beautifully judged and a breath of fresh air.
- Author: Leah Thomas
- Release Date: July 2015
- Publisher: Bloomsbury Children’s Books
- Pages: 344
- Rating: 4/5
- In three worlds: Against all odds.