Althea & Oliver by Cristina Moracho

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

I read this book back in November 2014 and only now did I have the courage and stubbornness to finally review it. I don't even know if whatever word vomit I produce will ever fully explain the love I have for this book or if it would even convince you to try and read it but I'll try.

Title: Althea & Oliver 
Author: Cristina Moracho
Publisher: Viking Juvenile
Date of Publication: October 9, 2014
Source: purchased from Amazon (hardback)

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.

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My Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

So much ache. So much love. To quote the book:

"It feels good, and it still hurts."

That's exactly how I felt. I'm so glad I read the book and it blew me away but it really broke me too at five in the morning when I finished it. Cristina Moracho, you owe me a night's sleep (But who cares? Definitely not me.) but I'd gladly give it to you all if you keep on writing books like this.

Grittily beautiful - that's how I'd describe this under the radar gem (well, it's under the radar with bloggers and readers but it's actually critically acclaimed). The characters are messy and real and raw and this is how I like my contemporary novels. To all those people who look down on YA as sub-par, read this book and go cry in the corner because you haven't been more wrong in your life.

I've always found the prose lush and vividly nostalgic, coupled with such complex characters with equally complex relationships. I found myself relating to a whole new bunch of topics with each re-read. (Fact: I re-read it at least twice a year.) My favorite books tend to do that: make me interpret them differently every time I read them.
"Her entire body can feel Oliver's approach, like he's a magnet and she's a collection of iron fillings that needs him to hold her together."

Althea & Oliver focuses on the titular characters, best friends since forever and now in high school. It starts with Althea rushing to get Oliver home, who has this sleep syndrome where he ends up sleeping for days (literally, even if he wakes up to eat, he's not really awake) and being a ravenous eater all the time. He's like in a coma but not really. No one knows what it is and this time around, when Oliver sleeps, he ends up sleeping for weeks. He sleeps most of summer. We then read about how Althea has been in love with Oliver for so long but he's just not into her that way. The pining in this book, while not front and center, was gripping. I could feel how much Althea wants and wants and wants but she also knows that she'll remain just as Oliver's best friend and nothing more. I remember feeling so sad because I know the feeling all too well (HA!) and I could relate.
"There are days that I remember, totally ordinary days when I was so happy just to be driving around in the car with you, just to have you there, and everything you said was funny and everything I said was clever and every song that came on the radio was exactly the song I wanted to hear. And on days like that I felt so fucking lucky just to have someone to feel that way about, just to feel that way at all, it didn't even matter if you feel the same way."


Without her best friend Oliver to go with to parties and to spend time with, Althea ends up spending her summer with Coby, who's not exactly nice. She dyes her blond hair black and she ends up kind of a different person when Oliver wakes up, or so he thinks. Althea and Oliver get into a huge fight because of something Althea did just before Oliver goes to New York; he's enrolled in a study about his disease. (It's Kleine-Levin syndrome, a rare sleep disorder characterized by persistent episodic hypersomnia, and cognitive and mood changes.) He thinks this is a perfect way to get away from Althea and he doesn't tell her where he's going. Althea only finds out that he's in New York from their friends and she ends up going after him. She finds the hospital he's in, only to be told that Oliver's asleep.

HAHAHA I think I already told most of the story but not really too. I fail, guys. Sorry. I don't know how much to say though so I don't know what to cut out heh

"The electricity he felt on the street last night returns, that sense of possibility that only happens when you strip away everything familiar."

I love how the setting, mid-1990s, felt like another character in this novel. You would think that only non-contemporary books would have to make the world it revolves in as rich and deep like a character but this contemporary book does it. I also remember pausing a lot of times while reading Althea & Oliver because I just had to marvel at Cristina Moracho's prose. It is indeed lovely and beautiful and it sounds like waves softly crashing on the shore and I would like to build a house by the shore just so I can hear it all the time.
“Her forehead creases with the effort of finding the right word, and when she’s got it, she nods to herself, like it was so obvious. “I’ll say,” she finally says, “that you were my favorite”. “Your favorite what?” “That’s it,” she says. “Just my favorite”."


At the end of the day, Althea & Oliver was a coming-of-age story of both Althea and Oliver, and while hard-earned, felt natural and totally not rushed or obvious. I love the ending, seriously. This is one of my most favorite endings in all of coming-of-age novels I've read because it packed that punch of hurt mixed in with hope. It was everything.
"There's only one way to go now: forward, into the unknown. Welcome to the jungle."
Go to the jungle, my friends. Go read this book.


Proof of my obsession: I've collected the ARC, the hardcover (signed), the international paperback, and the worldwide paperback. HAHAHA 

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