Leah Thomas’ blunderkinder are back, and they are as impossible and miraculous as ever. Ollie and Moritz forged an unbreakable bond in Because You’ll Never Meet Me, exchanging letters from across the globe. Ollie’s allergy to electricity means he’ll never see Moritz—equipped with a pacemaker and a love of EDM to boot—in person. Or, at least, not yet. Nowhere Near You, the second installment of Thomas’ as-yet-unnamed-Blunderkinder series, begins with Ollie’s greatest adventure so far: leaving his little house in the woods and venturing into the electric horizon of the open road.
Ollie doesn’t just leave home in a rubber suit for kicks, though. He wants to find other weirdos like him and Moritz, to hear their stories, and to make connections the likes of which a power line could never dream. Moritz, on the other hand, has enough to contend with in his own story. As if a new school and a new romance weren’t tricky enough, his memories of the human experimentation that produced him and Ollie are heavy and harrowing. At odds, as always, in both tone and timing, Moritz and Ollie write one another into their lives. Propelled by their love for one another and for the terrifying new worlds that they’re exploring, the two friends are drawn closer together even as they’re kept inexorably apart.
If Because You’ll Never Meet Me broke your heart and put it back together again, get ready for Nowhere Near You to put it through a blender.
Moritz and Ollie (and Moritz-and-Ollie) are amazing, don’t get me wrong—but the new characters in Nowhere Near You add a whole new dimension to their story. Ollie’s first stop on his Tour of the Outside is in Chicago, where he meets a boy named Arthur with bones made of chalk and a devil-may-care attitude that makes him the coolest person Ollie has ever met (disregarding, of course, the fact that he’s only met, like ten people). Then there’s Bridget, a girl who can take her heart—and emotions—right out of her chest, and does so with all the readiness of a dysfunctional teenager. Ollie’s desperation to know and love these flawed people is understandable, bizarre and and amazing as they are. But simmering underneath is the loss of his mother, and his desire to live the bigger and better life that she wanted for him. He asks for Arthur and Bridget’s stories while avoiding his own, hoping against hope that he can offer them solace without realizing that he needs some of his own.
Moritz’s friendships, meanwhile, are entirely accidental, and all-but unmanageable. Even while trying to forget the sins his mother committed by experimenting on innocent kids, he manages to find them in the strangest places—in an online RPG, and even at his new school. Molly, a girl with a gaping mouth on the back of her head, is an unlikely friend, but then again, so are all of the other brilliant, weird artists at Myriad school. Moritz’s infatuation with his new life, though, is at the expense of his old one. His budding romance with Owen flags, and he becomes more and more convinced that he has brought nothing but harm and ugliness into the world. Even as he learns to create art. Even as he lends Ollie his bravery.
If BYNMM was insular, NNY is expansive, and if the first was about a friendship, the second is about community. It’s a fragmented community, sure—some of it is online, some is unspoken and some only ever written—but that’s its strength, and that’s what gives these characters so much space to grow. Like Thomas’ first book, NNY contains a generosity of spirit that is unmatched in any other YA series. Its characters struggle endlessly to understand one another, even when their hearts are worn on their outsides or they’re projecting their emotions into the atmosphere. But Thomas—and, amazingly, Ollie—never treats kindness as a weakness. Every single one of the blunderkinder are laid bare by their strangeness and their disability, not to mention their unfortunate state of being human. That vulnerability, though, is what threads them together, slowly but surely, and what makes the love in this novel so believable and poignant.
In some ways, NNY treads the same path as BYNMM. This isn’t to say that Ollie and Moritz haven’t learned or changed, because learning and changing are pretty much their MO. NNY is emotionally real and triumphant if it is nothing else. But the novel’s structure—of Ollie hiding in a past narrative and of Moritz barreling through his own present angst until a revelation is more urgent than inevitable—is noticeably similar, perhaps because of how unique it felt in the first place. The third book in the series hasn’t been announced or even promised yet, but it seems likely that when or if it arrives, it’s going to completely upend this structure. It’s impossible to make predictions without spoilers, but suffice to say that if Ollie and Moritz want to change for the better, they’re going to have to break a whole lot of patterns and a whole lot of eggs.
In the meantime, I’ll be holding onto these characters exactly as they are, warts and all. It’s what they do for one another, and it’s what makes them wonderful.
Nowhere Near You is available from Bloomsbury USA.
Emily Nordling is a library assistant and perpetual student in Chicago, IL.