Althea & Oliver

Cristina Moracho
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.

Reviews

Reviewed: 2017-12-07
Initial Impressions 8/16/14: This was really good! Probably a little more than 4 stars for me... 4.25?
I really enjoyed so many things about this book. The characters were great. Very real, not shying away from the very real but more sensitive aspects of adolescence.
The writing was really great too! I loved the way Cristina Moracho strung words together and formed some really great prose.

Full review posted HERE on The Book Addict's Guide 9/8/14: 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.
Reviewed: 2016-05-31
This was extremely disappointing. From the start I found Althea immature and selfish, and I never connected with her. Oliver was a much nicer character and I was intrigued by his disease. When Althea wasn't around he was more focused on himself and his condition. However, there was too much language, under-age drinking and smoking of pot for my liking, and as for the 'sex' scene, that was just disturbing. In fact, in my opinion, it was borderline rape.
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