“Dead or Alive?”: Nearly Gone by Elle Cosimano

            One of the things I love about the Young Adult genre is how fluid it is—and has to be. While literary fiction and many other genres aimed at adults tend to remain rather rigid in how they deal with contemporary issues, stereotypes, or represent diversity, YA is aglow with change at all times. If you look at a book from 1998 and compare it to 2007 then 2012 then 2016 then 2020, the differences between all of them will be clear. Teens develop and change and the world around them does too, at a staggering rate nowadays. The books that represent their world and values usually understand this and do too. It’s one of the things that brings me, a moderately fully fledged adult, back to the genre time and time again. Plus they’re fun to read.

            My last YA review was in March of 2017 and, for a reading and lifestyle blog, that seems a long time ago. So I’m here to take a crack at reviews again. And we’re beginning with a book that’s been on my shelves for just about as long, Nearly Gone by Elle Cosimano.

            In the fast-paced world of YA, it’s immediately worth noting that this book was published in 2014. In some regards, it feels weirdly dated, even for its own time, and in others it feels ahead of its time or just okay. The book is told from Nearly Boswell’s perspective, although she goes by Leigh due to her unfortunate adverb name, as she works to win a chemistry scholarship, discover who is leaving foreboding clues in the Missed Connections, avoid the attractive narc with a past who has been sent to investigate her by the police, and continue hoping her long-lost father will contact her. Oh, and she can taste people’s emotions when she touches them. So, yeah, there’s a lot going on here.

            Many of the characters are made up of archetypes, but there’s just enough to them to make you feel like you’re invested. The exception, of course, is the murder victims. I’m not really sure if we’re supposed to care about them? There was one exception, but, for the most part, they come and go very quickly so I wasn’t very invested in the victims—which is kind of horrible—as much as I was in the mystery of the whodunit itself. Nearly, as our protagonist, is a bit of a mixed bag. I love that she’s intelligent, driven, but still has faults. Her competitiveness with her friend and lab partner, Anh, for the scholarship was something I definitely cared about; like Nearly, I didn’t want either girl to win or lose because then someone would get hurt. However, she’s very judgmental and looks down on others. And while I love how smart Nearly is meant to be, she makes a lot of dumb decisions.

            Like boys. One of the ‘rules’ Nearly establishes early in the book is that she’s not allowed to touch others because of her ability to feel their emotions. However, she uses her ability to gauge her best friend Jeremy’s mental health and is fully aware of his crush on her without saying anything. Which is fair enough—there are some complicated economic dynamics at play. Then, while she does her best (at first) to keep her distance from Reece the Narc with a Heart of Gold, she lets her boundaries down around him despite the danger it puts her in. They literally have chemistry since she has to tutor him which is so fanfic I almost didn’t mind it. The book, however, establishes pretty early that the scholarship is Nearly’s #1 priority. The murders and then boys distract her enough—and are such obvious distractions—that you’d think she’d get it.

            I’m not going to reveal who the culprit is behind the murders. When I first finished the book I felt unsatisfied and tried to imagine different culprits, all the red herrings I’d gone through as I was reading, but couldn’t picture a way to make them work in unproblematic ways. However, as I write this, I think not only does it work but it’s symbolic of the way a lot of antagonists of that nature treat characters like Nearly and others. So I’ve come around. The use of the Missed Connections to leave clues does seem a bit hokey even in 2014 but it works out okay in the end. The use of science, math, and other knowledge to point to the murders isn’t quite new, but I still enjoyed its use here—particularly the ongoing motif of Schrodinger’s Cat. However, the motive was pretty obvious, to me about a third through the book—even if it took me a little longer to nail down who was responsible and then longer still to accept the why.

            As for that weird supernatural element? This is the first book in a series so I have to assume the power comes into use more in the other books. There was a neat scene where she gets a literal contact high at a rave but, other than that, it was a mostly useless plot device. The book could have been almost the same without it.

              Overall, Nearly Gone is an interesting YA murder-mystery. I might recommend it to smart girls who grew up poor and want more, to those who love mysteries with chemistry, or to people who haven’t outgrown the Bad Boy trope. Grab a copy before you nearly miss this connection.