So, it is 99% true that I only ever do blog tour stuff for really good friends. Today, I welcome you to the 1% – a book I was asked to feature because I tweeted about loving it so damn much, and I said yes because A) I loved it so damn much, and B) I’ve seen such sad little talk of it, despite the fact that my immediate reaction was “For fans of Mosquitoland who are also intrigued by the premise of Everything, Everything,” and those are two of the biggest debuts of the year. This book definitely leans more toward the sci-fi than either of those titles (think maybe double the sci-fi quotient of the fabulous More Happy Than Not), so, be prepared for that, but if you love the wonderfully weird and refreshingly different, I hope you’ll give this debut that strongly highlights physical disability and really unique voices a shot! So, full disclosure: These aren’t my questions, but I do love them, and I absolutely love the answers. And the book. So while the content here isn’t mine, the endorsement for it absolutely is. And now, because we’ve wasted enough time on me when you could be learning more about this beautiful (and strongly diverse, by the way) book, let’s get to it!
Ollie and Moritz are best friends, but they can never meet. Ollie has a life-threatening allergy to electricity, and Moritz’s weak heart requires a pacemaker. If they ever did meet, they could both die. Living as recluses 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. But when Moritz reveals the key to their shared, sinister past that began years ago in a mysterious German laboratory, their friendship faces a test neither one of them expected. Narrated in letter form by Ollie and Moritz—two extraordinary new voices—this story of impossible friendship and hope under strange circumstances blends elements of science fiction with coming of age themes, in a humorous, dark, and ultimately inspiring tale is completely unforgettable. Buy it: B&N * Indiebound * Amazon
- Have you ever been in a long distance relationship/friendship?
Half-no, half-yes. Half-no because often I feel as though the phrase “long distances” has hardly any relevance these days. I mean, I can remember Skype coming into existence when I was growing up, and calling my family in the UK for the first time, and how after we hung up it seemed to me as though Star Trek technology was becoming a reality (but dang it, why aren’t we in deep space yet?). For the most part, in recent years we’ve seen the idea of “long distance” die at the hands of technology. Hooray! Hooray for that! But here’s the half-yes: while I can message my friends in Sweden and England and Taiwan in a heartbeat, there is something to be said for seeing people face-to-face. There is a distance that won’t budge. Regardless, I choose to see the upside. Some of the best friends I have are nowhere near me geographically, and still somehow close by. How wondrous is that?
- Have you ever met anyone you knew you’d most likely never see again and how did that influence your time together?
Oh, gosh. Yes. I’ve been here. I mean, we could even take this back to summer camp! More recently, I lived in Taiwan for a year or so to gain teaching experience. During that time I was aware, always aware, of the transience of living abroad. Some people would stay in Taipei for years, others only months, others a lifetime. There was something very tragic about that knowledge. I was very conscious of the strange wonder of my life in those days – yes, I’m meeting people I’d never have met otherwise, from so many places I’ve never been, and I’ve got the chance to see perspectives I’ve never seen before. But at the same time, there’s the weight: if you know you’re leaving in a few months, you put up barriers. You make this sort of unconscious decision not to fall too much in love with a place, though really you can’t help yourself. The way I see living abroad: it creates horcruxes. Every time you move away from a place you called home, you leave a tiny piece of your soul behind. And not in an evil Voldemort-y way, because leaving pieces of yourself doesn’t really make you less of a person. But it can make you very sad, very torn-up. I shudder to think how much worse this would be in the days before the internet. How would you ever piece your soul back together? I am grateful to be living in an age where distance is no longer a murderer of friendships, where goodbyes hold less water. (They’ll still make you sob, though, peering out rearview mirrors.)
- Do you think pen pal/long distance relationships are easier maintain when you’re a teenager, like Ollie and Moritz, or when you’re a bit older?
Nowadays, I don’t think teenagers think twice about having long distance relationships or online friendships. I think that’s a wonderful evolution. It’s completely natural that you’d have a best friend who blogs from Malaysia or games in Austria. For my part, the friends I knew in my youth: if I’m honest, I really failed to keep our closeness intact when distance split us apart. It was hard. I mean, who doesn’t have yearbooks full of “friends forever” and at some point, the certainty that friendships can withstand anything? You take it for granted, when you live next door to people, that they’ll always be a part of you. Maybe that’s the case for some friendships, but it’s one heck of a burden to place on others. And at the same time, friends I’ve never met – or met only rarely – have remained friendly, because proximity was never essential to the friendship. Those friendships grew from mutual interests, shared love of movies or books or television, kinship in fandoms and fun in conversations. I think for a lot of young nerds (oh, my people!), this is friendship, no bones about it. I’m going to give the points to the youth on this one. J The next generation doesn’t see the need to qualify these things. Near or far, those friends are real.
- A lot of YA novels feature female friendships. What drove you write BECAUSE YOU’LL NEVER MEET ME from the perspective of two male best friends?
Oh, okay. I want to be careful with how I answer this, because we need diverse books, and starting any answer with a statement about how I chose boys over girls for a YA series would just make me gag a little (I certainly didn’t sit here and think, “Gosh, we need more angsty white boys in literature!”). For me, it’s more about subverting expectations of what two male friends can be. Hyper-masculinity is daunting to me, and it’s an aspect of culture that I think sometimes puts a damper on a lot of male-male friendships in western societies. Why can’t guys say they love each other? Why can’t men be weak or feminine without being labeled? And why were those considered negative traits in the first place? (I can see a positive change in this area, but we’ve got a ways to go.) But more than this. I am very determined to increase visibility of characters with disabilities. It’s at least in part a side-effect of my upbringing by social workers, but also a result of teaching middle-schoolers. So while Oliver and Moritz identify as male (although not necessarily as cis), that’s secondary to where they stand in the world: where they stand is apart from the world. And their unusual friendship humanizes them, makes them part of it, helps them overcome what others might call weaknesses. People identify themselves as so many things, in so many ways, and there are so many great words for those things, and I…well, I didn’t want gender to define this story, unless I was subverting some of those expectations. I’m trying to reclaim the bromance, thank you very much. And witnessing this strange friendship – a friendship that may not be so strange after all, when we look at the world and the progress we’ve made against stereotypes – can hopefully help us rethink what the “norms” for growing up in the modern world should be.
- If Ollie and Moritz were real and you could tell them anything, what would you say?
Um. Ollie and Moritz are totally real. Just because they’re fictional doesn’t mean they aren’t real. But okay, okay, I’ll play nice. Ahaha. I guess I would tell them what I’m trying to tell everyone by sharing this story: we all mess up. It’s inevitable. It’s human, and it’s necessary, and it can be ugly. But what makes our lives worthwhile is overcoming the trials that lay us low, especially when the trials are our own regrets. I think Moritz and Ollie spend a lot of time feeling worthless because they make mistakes, but our mistakes help make us. So I’d say the usual: Stand up, Ollie. And Moritz: Cheer up; soon be Christmas. 🙂
Leah Thomas frequently loses battles of wits against her students and her stories. When she’s not huddled in cafes, she’s usually at home pricking her fingers in service of cosplay. Leah lives in San Diego, California, and Because You’ll Never Meet Me is her debut novel. Follow her on Twitter @blunderkinder.