Publishing Info: October 9, 2014 by Penguin
Source: ARC, Received from the publisher for review purposes
Genres: Contemporary, Realistic Fiction, Young Adult
Find it on the web: Buy from Amazon // Goodreads
Date Completed: August 16, 2014
Related Posts: A Good Idea
What if you live for the moment when life goes off the rails—and then one day there’s no one left to help you get it back on track?
Althea Carter and Oliver McKinley have been best friends since they were six; she’s the fist-fighting instigator to his peacemaker, the artist whose vision balances his scientific bent. Now, as their junior year of high school comes to a close, Althea has begun to want something more than just best-friendship. Oliver, for his part, simply wants life to go back to normal, but when he wakes up one morning with no memory of the past three weeks, he can’t deny any longer that something is seriously wrong with him. And then Althea makes the worst bad decision ever, and her relationship with Oliver is shattered. He leaves town for a clinical study in New York, resolving to repair whatever is broken in his brain, while she gets into her battered Camry and drives up the coast after him, determined to make up for what she’s done.
Their journey will take them from the rooftops, keg parties, and all-ages shows of their North Carolina hometown to the pool halls, punk houses, and hospitals of New York City before they once more stand together and face their chances. Set in the DIY, mix tape, and zine culture of the mid-1990s, Cristina Moracho’s whip-smart debut is an achingly real story about identity, illness, and love—and why bad decisions sometimes feel so good.
I hadn’t even heard of ALTHEA & OLIVER until it showed up on my doorstep (thanks again, Penguin Teen!) but as soon as I read the synopsis, I knew it was a book that I’d really connect with. I immediately dove in and finished within a few days. Cristina Moracho’s debut book was so wonderfully written — perfectly poetic and yet realistically raw all at the same time.
ALTHEA & OLIVER revolves around the two title characters who have been friends since they were six years old. They become best friends, living just down the street from each other, and their friendship continues throughout high school until it reaches the tipping point of best friends vs romantic feelings. The story takes place in the mid-1990s and we first meet Althea and Oliver on their way back home, Oliver struggling to stay awake. But Oliver isn’t just tired… He suffers from a rare condition where he’ll fall asleep and not wake up for days or even weeks (with the exceptions his mom forcibly waking him up to eat and use the facilities).
Althea & Oliver have always been bosom buddies so these large periods of time when Oliver is out cold really takes a toll on Althea. Oliver is sort of the light to Althea’s dark — he’s always been the good kid with great grades and a group of friends and Althea is at a point in her life where she’s struggling… I love how solid her friendship is with Oliver and how she has a good relationship with her dad (her mom left the family and now lives out in New Mexico), but you could tell there’s just something missing in Althea’s life and she’s not quite sure what it is. She’s great at art and drawing but hasn’t really applied it to anything and although she has a gets along great with her dad, he’s not incredibly “present” in her life. He’s always there but he’s very involved with his work as a professor and his history research so he often lets Althea do as she pleases and doesn’t really get involved unless something goes terribly wrong.
It was just heartbreaking to see Althea sort of lost in her own life. She’d been through some rough patches and although her mom left a long time ago, I never really got the sense that she was missing her mother. She didn’t really have her own friends outside of Oliver since they were best friends and around each other all the time so when Oliver goes through his sleeping spells, she starts to take it extra hard… Especially when the first happens right after she realizes she’s starting to feel stronger feelings for him than just friendship.
The characters really made the book for me. I loved their friendship and their varying levels of affection for each other. I’m a sucker for best-friend-turned-boyfriend romance so of course I was rooting for them to get together but the great part about ALTHEA & OLIVER was that it wasn’t a sticky-sweet romance. Both characters are really going through something hard in their lives and as much as they rely on each other as a best friend, they both question how good they would be together if that friendship transitioned into a relationship. Nothing was cut and dry and I really liked that I felt like I was going on that journey with them. Everything felt very real and very raw and with the book switching back and forth between Althea’s and Oliver’s point of views, I felt like I got to know the inner-workings of both characters very well.
The characters also go on a physical journey and there’s a growing sense of dread and anxiety wondering if they’ll ever meet up again and when they do, can things ever be the same again? Althea and Oliver have been so close almost their entire lives, living in the quiet town of Wilmington, North Carolina so when they finally separate and start to figure themselves out on their own, it was a onslaught of questions in my mind wondering if they’re supposed to reunite or if they’re better off on their own. I also loved that the answer wasn’t apparent. The situations just felt so real that I really had to watch and see how they played out instead of assuming that the book would have a happy ending and they fall in love and start a relationship.
ALTHEA & OLIVER was such a great read for me. I really loved Cristina Moracho’s writing and how descriptive it was without bogging the reader down in details. Everything from the plot to the characters to the setting was picture-perfect. There are some sexual situations and frequent language that may steer this towards a more mature audience and sometimes I can be on the fence regarding content in YA novels, but every single thing in this book just felt true to who the characters were and what the situation was at the time so I never really felt like anything was overboard, but something to keep in mind if slightly more explicit content is something that turns you off. Personally, I thought it all fit in just fine and Cristina Moracho really hit a home run with this debut.
“The View from Goodreads” is a new featured section in my reviews that I decided to incorporate! I tend to update my Goodreads status a LOT when I read — reactions, feelings, notes — so I thought it would be fun to share the sort of “reading process”! All status updates are spoiler-free (no specific plot points will be revealed) but will contain reactions to certain pages and/or characters!
Althea // Character Obsessions: Art, Oliver, having fun, ambivalence.
Althea was a bit… troubled, I guess for lack of a better word, but I just really connected with her. She’s gone through a few rough things in her life and we all handle those things differently. Throughout the course of the book, she has to figure out her feelings for her best friend and if their relationship will be jeopardized all while he’s going through something totally scary in his own way. I feel like Althea just seems a bit lost and although I didn’t react the same way to those feelings (she tends to act them out and her temper flares up quicker than most), I totally know what that feels like and it’s so hard to go through that without knowing if you can even confide in your best friend. I really liked her a lot and I wouldn’t say that we’re similar but I could really see a lot of myself in her.
Oliver // Character Obsessions: Friends, family, fun, figuring out what the hell is wrong with him.
Ah, I think I just love all Olivers. It’s a fact. But this Oliver feels very much like the boy next door, which is also a trope that I LOVE. He’s the light when Althea is experiencing dark and he’s always there for her. He’s going through the biggest and scariest and most frustrating thing in his life though, and that does put a strain on their friendship. Everything about Oliver just felt so real. He was nice, he was happy, but he also had his own moments of anger and frustration and I really liked seeing that side of him too, no matter how ugly things got!
Kept Me Hooked On: Gritty, realistic fiction. I do love my fluffy contemporary and I have been reading a lot it lately… But this book just really sucked me in and I just love connecting with something emotional and gritty and raw. Even after sitting on it for a few days before writing my review, it’s just a book that’s stuck with me and I think it will for a long time.
Left Me Wanting More: 90s feel. This book was set in the mid-90s and I think it was perfect. No cell phones, no smart phones, no internet instant gratification. Ah, times were simpler then. There were some good music references, some movies, but not a whole lot to make me feel like I was in the 90s. Then again, it also does make the book a little more timeless without TOO many references!
I really enjoyed this one and was already ready to go share with people once I finished… Then after a few days, my feelings for it just kept growing. I love books that just stick with you well after you’ve finished and this was one of them for me.
(Click the cover to see my review!)