Guest Review: Because You’ll Never Meet Me by Leah Thomas

Posted August 5, 2015 by Emily in Review / 8 Comments

Guest Review: Because You’ll Never Meet Me by Leah ThomasBecause You'll Never Meet Me by Leah Thomas
Published by Bloomsbury USA Childrens on June 2nd 2015
Pages: 344
Format: Paperback
Source: library
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In a stunning literary debut, two boys on opposite ends of the world begin an unlikely friendship that will change their lives forever.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.

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This entire review is based on one very minor book spoiler that is not in the description.

**Be sure to scroll all the way to the bottom for an exciting update from Audible.com**

I was very excited to read Because YouÂ’ll Never Meet Me. It was highly recommended to me by several people and I had heard that it had a great blind character in it. I enjoyed the book, but there was one small problem. Its hard to really love a book when I have such strong objections to one of the main characters. Of course, this character is Moritz.

So I want to be very clear. I really enjoyed this book. I thought the premise was interesting and I liked the characters. However, I think its very difficult to write a blind character because there are so very few examples of a realistic blind character in media. Blind Characters are either portrayed as people to be pitied or as people with heroic, super human senses. Its very rare to ever find a blind character who is fully developed and interesting with their blindness being one of many details about them.

I find a few things great about Moritz. He doesn’t think he’s blind. This denial is so normal with blind people I see it every day. There’s definitely when a person is accepting their blindness. He also starts out as a jerk. I know hundreds, if not thousands of blind people and they aren’t all nice. A blind person is just as likely to be a jerk as anyone else is.

IÂ’m very active in the blindness field and I have dedicated my life to teaching braille. I can tell you all of my objections to Moritz as a character, but I thought it would be better to let some of my friends read the book and then interview them here. I can say my opinions, and trust me, I will. However, at the end of the day, IÂ’m still a sighted person talking about my opinions about a blind character. These are all real, live, actual, blind people and their opinions on this book are their own.

**UPDATE**
So this blog has created a lot of discussion. I was reading today and I found this blog post that really explains what the problem is with disabled characters who have superpowers. t does a much better job phrasing my issues with this concept than I did.  I highly recommend reading this. Superpowers and Suicide: The Spectrum of Disabilities in Popular Culture

First I’d like to introduce you to my friends who agreed to be interviewed:

Holly: Hi, I’m Holly, a blind student from the UK and active book blogger. I blog at Catch These Words, http://catchthesewords.com and you can also find me on twitter as @holly1994

BlindBeader: Hi! I’m an administrative professional from Canada who makes jewelry,
runs, reads, and drinks coffee in her spare time (I don’t care if
drinking coffee isn’t technically a hobby). You can find my blog at
blindbeader.wordpress.com

Rox’E: Hi My name is RoxÂ’E.  IÂ’m a Deafblind herbalist, service dog trainer, and teacher.  My passions are books— mostly of the fantasy genre, cooking, and clicker training. I blog infrequently at: http://pawpower4me.blogspot.com

1. What did you like most about this book?

Holly: I liked that it was a book about two boys becoming friends. Romance was an aspect of the story, but itÂ’s rare to find friendship books aimed at young adults and even more rare to find a friendship book about two boys. So I did enjoy that.

Blindbeader: I loved some of the very profound questions this book picked apart, about denial and isolation and friendship. It’s very rare to have a YA book with two male protagonists, and while sometimes they seemed very young for their age, Ollie’s perceptions of Moritz’s identity (and Moritz’s ideas about how petulant and obnoxious Ollie could be) are a breath of fresh air in a genre that is definitely more female-centric of macho-young-man lit.

Rox’E: This is hard.  Honestly, I didnÂ’t like the characters, and yet, I was compelled to continue reading.  I donÂ’t really think I liked anything about the book except the fact that even though I disliked everything, I continued reading it.  That speaks highly of the authorÂ’s talent more than anything.

2. What did you object to most about this book?

Holly: I strongly objected to the way disability was handled in this book. Moritz was a very unrealistic blind character, IÂ’d go as far as to say the way he was written is actually quite harmful. I also found the obsession with curing the disabled characters quite concerning.

Blindbeader: I actually objected to the sci-fi elements.  Perhaps my objections (particularly to Moritz’s character) might not be so strong if I hadn’t picked up this book expecting something a bit more realistic.  While being allergic to electricity isn’t exactly common, I read an autobiography recently about a woman who’s skin burns when she comes in contact with light, so in theory this COULD have been a general fiction book (like I had expected) rather than bringing in science fiction.  I am much more forgiving of misconceptions of disability in sci-fi because you know that realism isn’t necessarily
what the reader is looking for.

Rox’E: Wow, where to start… I objected to the authorÂ’s portrayal of disability.  Of the magical “cure” of one of the characters, of the way blindness was pictured, and especially to the extreme use of echolocation, which is unrealistic. There was a scene in the book where one of MoritzÂ’s teachers takes away his cane because “He doesnÂ’t need it.” It is never, ever OK to take someoneÂ’s mobility device from them, even if, in the judgement of the other person, that device is not needed.

3. What did the author get right about being a blind person?

Holly: Honestly, IÂ’m not sure. I found Moritz generally objectionable, both because he was rude, a character trait I can at least understand, but mostly because the portrayal of him was just unrealistic.

Blindbeader: I think the only thing she did get right is the very real way a blind person could be in denial about blindness.  I don’t have to like it, think it’s in any way healthy, or otherwise, but I think at some point or another, every blind person on this planet has gone through anger and denial – even if that period is very short.

Rox’E: I like that Moritz was a jerk.  Many times, blind people are portrayed to be patient, long-suffering, inspirational little angels.  I like that Morits was shown to be a jerk.  I donÂ’t like MoritzÂ’s character, and I donÂ’t like his view of blindness as something lesser-than or shameful, but I like that he was snarky

4. What did the author get wrong about being a blind person?

Holly: Firstly, Moritz is in denial about being blind. He even refuses to associate with the term. And most of all his dad supports that, telling him he could try pretending to be blind. He has heightened senses, using echolocation but in an extremely advanced way, for example he can hear specs of dust. ThatÂ’s impossible, and not a good way of portraying a blind person. We have a hard enough time fighting stereotypes in reality, let alone when they are re enforced in books like this. He also doesnÂ’t use a cane because of his heightened senses, even blind people who do echo locate advocate that you should use a cane as well, it can be used to compliment travel, not as a substitute for a cane or dog.

Blindbeader: The fine-tuned sense of echo-location.  Even highly competent echo-locators will tell you they can’t hear eyelashes flutter or dust floating in the air. I also had a huge problem with Moritz’s portrayal as someone who is, by all accounts, illiterate.  He never learned to read braille, and yet he had perfect grammar and (I presume, since I listened to the audiobook) spelling in his letters to Ollie.  And the idea that he could fool everyone – including school professionals – that he was sighted really bothered me.

Rox’E: In a word, echolocation.  I know this is fiction and therefore, by its nature pretend, but the author needed to do some research. Blind people canÂ’t use echolocation to read books, or to count someoneÂ’s eyelashes. I didnÂ’t like the view that being blind and using a cane are things to be avoided, or perceived as being less.

5. What would you have changed?

Holly: I would have ensured the portrayal of Moritz was accurate. I would also have not included View Spoiler ».

Blindbeader: I would have done a lot more research in to Moritz’s character in particular.  I don’t expect authors to completely echo my life – all blind people are unique individuals – but to stereotype in this way could cause blind people serious problems down the line.

Rox’E: I would have made Moritz a more believable blind person, not some kind of super-blind guy. I would not View Spoiler »

6. What do you want people to know about being a blind person?

Holly: I want people to understand the reality of it. I want people to understand that a lot of blind people are very comfortable with their identity. We lead successful, productive lives. We arenÂ’t superhuman, it takes time and dedication to develop the skills we have. Ultimately we are people, our lives arenÂ’t that much different from anyone else’s.

Blindbeader: We are not super-human, nor are we so dependent on others that our lives are completely over-run and depressing.  We are human beings, with strengths, weaknesses, talents and gifts.  They are no more or no less impressive than anyone else’s.  I happen to be incredibly intuitive, but that’s my personality, not because I’m blind;  I don’t particularly enjoy TV, but that has more to do with preferring books than the fact  that I can’t see the screen.  Blindness should only be one aspect of someone’s life, and for many of us, it is.  The barriers we face are rarely ones we set up for ourselves; they are placed in front of us by lowered expectations by friends, family and the general public.

Rox’E: Blindness is a spectrum term— meaning that a blind person can be full blind, yes.  However there are blind people with some sight.  Blind people are just regular people.  Like red hair, or hairy legs, blindness is a characteristic.  Blind people do not rely exclusively upon echolocation.  It is perfectible to use it, but you still need a white cane or a service dog.  Echolocation is not the only tool in a blind personÂ’s mobility toolbox. Blind people are just like regular people.  In the book, Moritz was in denial about his blindness.  However, there are folks, like myself, who are comfortable with their identity as a blind person and who would not change it, even if that were possible.

7. What were your thoughts about this book?

Holly: Honestly it made me very uncomfortable. I couldnÂ’t enjoy it because I felt like the messages it was pushing were all wrong. IÂ’m concerned that itÂ’s so highly recommended. Teenagers need to see positive representations of themselves in literature. They donÂ’t need to be turned into subhuman creatures. I honestly felt, and this is a spoiler, View Spoiler ».

Blindbeader: Confession here… I did not finish this book.  I hated Moritz’s denial so much (and, to be frank, Kirby Heyborne’s narration didn’t help) that I gave up about 2/3 through the book.  There are good things about this book, but you have to get through the pushing of cures and the super- yet sub-human portrayals of both main characters to mine the small handful of nuggets left over.

Rox’E: My first thought?  This author needs to do some better research.  The book was interesting, but I felt like the ending was very slapdash.

So thank you for taking this opportunity to read about what blind people think about a book you may have loved. I hope that it approached things from a different direction and maybe made you think a little.

**UPDATE**

I was contacted by Audible.com about this post. Audible.com is a fantastic resource for audio books. These audio books are produced with high quality narration and a multicharacter cast. No computer text to speech is here!  If you are interested, they provided me with a sample of the audio book of  Because You’ll Never Meet Me. I love to listen to audio books in the car when I’m driving from school to school. Check out this clip and for more information go to www.audible.com.

Because You’ll Never Meet Me Audio Clip

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8 responses to “Guest Review: Because You’ll Never Meet Me by Leah Thomas

  1. Laura

    Haven’t read this one, but speaking of blind characters, have you read these:

    Jane A. Adams
    • Naomi Blake: blind ex-policewoman in the Midlands of England

    Brigitte Aubert
    • Elise Andrioli: left blind mute and quadriplegic after a terrorist bomb explosion that killed her fiancé, in Northern Ireland

    • Emily

      I haven’t ever heard of those! They sound like nonfiction. I have read Crashing Through which is about about Mike May. It was ok. Mike has an incredible life story and he’s a great example of a confident blind person. Unfortunately the whole book is about his experimental surgery to correct his blindness.

  2. Tri

    Moritz is not blind – he physically has no eyes and his echolocation is a nod to the comic book Daredevil – lots of the book is referencing sci-fi and comics culture. It’s not meant to be realistic – Leah wrote it speculatively. I adored both characters. I completely understand your points if it was trying to realistically portray blindness in society but I think Leah actually does a great job here with empathising with these two characters who have surreal/fantastical challenges to face. Good points though x

  3. Tri

    Also – should be noted, this is NOT a contemporary novel. It is has kind of been mis-packaged. It is sci-fi/speculative fiction.

    • Emily

      Thanks for your comments! I agree that is is more Sci Fi that’s been billed as contemporary, which is a problem. I don’t agree with your distinction that not having eyes makes Moritz not blind. What is blind but the inability to see?

      I recognized the similarities between Moritz and Daredevil and appreciate them. The difference is that Matthew Murdock (especially in the new Netflix series) is a very accomplished blind man as well as a superhero. He reads braille. He uses his cane effectively. He has a good job in a respected field (law). All of these things make him a great example of a blind person and a good role model above and beyond his being a superhero.

      Personally, I really liked the book. However, there aren’t enough positive blind characters in literature and it would be remiss of me to not point that out after reading it.

      • I personally, as I’m sure you all know couldn’t stand Moritz as a blind character, yet I love Daredevil. As Emily said he is a superhero and so he has powers that blind people don’t have, but he’s also a lawyer by day and when he is in that role the way he was portrayed was excellent.

        It’s a big issue when we use a SciFi setting as a justification for writing a potentially damaging disabled character. If it was made 100% clear that Moritz has powers because of a science experiment then I would have been ok with it, I still think it’s very lazy but I’d have understood it. But a lot of it is made out like it’s just echo location, a tool which blind people actually use.

        Also Moritz is blind. People with no eyes are blind. Many people have their eyes removed due to childhood cancer, they are still blind people, go to school and use braille, travel with a cane. I don’t think having no eyes is a legitimate reason why Moritz shouldn’t be classed as a blind person. He doesn’t identify as one but that to me is an example of denial.

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