Nearly Boswell knows how to keep secrets. Living in a DC trailer park, she knows better than to share anything that would make her a target with her classmates. Like her mother’s job as an exotic dancer, her obsession with the personal ads, and especially the emotions she can taste when she brushes against someone’s skin. But when a serial killer goes on a killing spree and starts attacking students, leaving cryptic ads in the newspaper that only Nearly can decipher, she confides in the one person she shouldn’t trust: the new guy at school—a reformed bad boy working undercover for the police, doing surveillance. . . on her.
Nearly might be the one person who can put all the clues together, and if she doesn’t figure it all out soon—she’ll be next.
I read the bulk of Nearly Gone during a perfect day. I was at the beach with my family. It was maybe 75 degrees out, the temperature kept in check by a light sea breeze. The sky was a brilliant blue, and the air was filled with the lulling roar of the surf. It was, as I said, a perfect day, and I spent a good three hours completely oblivious to it all. Guys, I read Nearly Gone from cover to cover, then looked up and had to remind myself what day it was and why my toes were covered with sand.
I blame my immediate and complete absorption on Ms. Cosimano’s ability to dole out pertinent information. We begin in chemistry class with our main character, Nearly. Within a few short pages, we learn everything we need to know about her fellow classmates through Nearly’s easygoing, drily witty narration. There’s scary Oleksander Petrenko, a Ukranian with a love for red shoelaces; TJ Wiles, a jock most notable for his dead mom and broken leg; Lonny, another scary dude with all-but-proven ties to the town’s drug trade; Anh, Nearly’s best friend and toughest competition for the school’s chemistry scholarship; and Jeremy, Nearly’s other best friend whose baggage includes both an abusive dad and a therapist. By the end of the first chapter, I had a clear picture of each character, along with Nearly’s feelings about each of them and a rudimentary understanding of what type of threat they pose to her. To be able to share that much information without being stilted or weighed down is incredibly hard, but Ms. Cosimano pulls it off.
It’s fitting that the story begins in chemistry class, as it’s the place that we return to again and again. Chemistry class holds Nearly’s sole hope for the future—a scholarship that will take her out of the trailer park to somewhere she can be someone other than Nearly Boswell, daughter of an exotic dancer and a man who disappeared years ago. Chemistry class is where Nearly and Anh first became friends and even now whisper and giggle while they fight each other for the top spot. It’s in chemistry class that Nearly reads the personal ads every day, searching for her father but instead finding cryptic messages that seem to tie into the threatening messages carved into her desk. And it’s through chemistry that Nearly finds students to tutor—students that soon start to show up dead with all the clues pointing back to Nearly.
A large part of my enjoyment of this book rests on the narrow shoulders of the fantastic Nearly Boswell. She feels like a real person from the get-go. Despite her unconventional family situation and her unusual talent for tasting emotions, Nearly is never a gimmick. Instead, she is a girl happy to remain invisible, despite being more than a little opinionated, but she also has close friends in Jeremy and Anh. To my absolute delight, she also wears glasses (when was the last time you saw a normal girl wearing glasses in YA lit?!) and is strongest in the STEM subjects but can quote Shakespeare to a stunned classmate just as easily. Just as delightfully, Nearly and her classmates fully recognize that her name is ridiculous, a move that more authors should embrace, in my opinion.
Back in middle school, we’d had a writing lesson about eliminating unnecessary adverbs, and the class had latched onto my name: Nearly Boswell. I became an adverb. Expendable.
I’d gone from “Nearly a Freak” in grade school, to “Nearly Has Boobs” in middle school, and now “Nearly Invisible” to most of West River High.
It seems, though, that Nearly hasn’t become invisible enough. Someone is killing her students and framing her. The killer leaves her clues in the personal ads, riddles with chemistry- and math-based answers designed to catch her eye. This mystery is aces, you guys. People die, people that you will undoubtedly grow to like. At one point I scrawled out “Noooooooooo” in my notes. The feeling of being watched and stealthily herded into a corner creeps up your spine as you watch Nearly race to save the latest target. Whoever it is knows Nearly’s habits, which makes everyone a suspect, even those closest to her. The only person Nearly can’t push away is Reece, her newest pupil and police snitch assigned to dig up dirt on her as the department’s prime suspect.
Hoo boy, you guys. This book went straight onto my “Book Boyfriends” shelf on Goodreads even before I’d finished reading. Reece has the typical bad-boy air, what with his tattoos, longish hair, and facial piercings. And since he’s assigned to Nearly for nefarious purposes, he’s also a boy we know we shouldn’t trust. But guys, they flirt with chemistry. As in, THEY LITERALLY USE CHEMICAL EQUATIONS AND THEORIES TO FLIRT. How can I not support that? Also, as the story progresses, we learn that boys, like books, should not necessarily be judged by their covers.
Then again, this is a philosophy that should be applied to everyone Nearly meets. Your opinions, like mine, will undoubtedly change from the first chem class meeting. Everyone has their own motivations, their own secrets, and Nearly’s touch can only uncover so much. If you like thrilling mysteries, flirting with science, swoony boys, and well-rounded heroines, I urge you to check out Nearly Gone. Just learn from my pain and reapply your sunscreen before you start reading, okay?
Points Added For: Nearly and her brains and glasses and attitude, the acknowledgement that her name is weird, REECE, chemistry jokes, the diverse cast, the shades of grey in characterization, that Nearly’s abilities are subtly used rather than the main point.
Points Subtracted For: A few plot holes, some suspension of disbelief.
Good For Fans Of: Riddles, flirting with chemistry, boys who pretend to be bad but are trying to do good, smart girls.
Notes For Parents: Language, innuendo, drug use, violence/murder, tw: animal death.
Note: I received a review copy of this title in exchange for an honest review.