Saturday, August 29, 2015

What we're reading: Edgy fiction

I picked up Althea and Oliver, honestly, because the title reminded me of Eleanor and Park. I think, also, that I confused it with Robin Benway's new novel, Emmy and Oliver, because I had just read a review of that book, which starts out with two childhood best friends as well, one also named Oliver! But Cristina Moracho's book is definitely not E&P, although they share some themes and are set in the fairly recent past (E&P in the '80s, A&O in the '90s).

I found the cover blurb a bit misleading (and it seems many on Goodreads agreed with me), and so I'll tell you that if you are picking this up because you're expecting a love story, then stop right here! Definitely a coming of age story, for both protagonists, but romance? That's tough when only one of you wants it.

Althea and Oliver have been best friends since they were six years old--but now, in their late teens, they're in a moment of flux in their relationship. Oliver is that guy with all the friends, social and easygoing in any setting, while Althea is that girl who has only one friend, from whom she needs everything. Oliver is happy with the way things are between them, while Althea finds herself wanting more, and her unrequited feelings for him are painful to experience. Apart from their friendship, Oliver also wants to get out into the world, to experiment, to experience new things, while Althea is so focused on her emotional side that all she can want right now is Oliver, all to herself, wholly and romantically.

Complicating all this exponentially is that Oliver suffers from a rare condition, a sleep disorder that basically puts him out of commission for weeks at a time (he falls asleep and doesn't wake up). Events that transpire during and between his "breaks" put Althea and Oliver at odds, with the result that Oliver angrily leaves town without a goodbye, and goes to New York City for a lengthy sleep study, hoping to solve his problem. Althea, who is still unresolved with her feelings, finds a way to follow him there, but it's not as easy to reconcile as she anticipates, and this is the point at which she finally begins to go her own way.

This is a gritty, raw, and honest book about growing up, beginning with teen angst and suburban drama, and ending with life choices in the big city. Although this wasn't a favorite of mine, I can say that the writing is top-notch and would cause me to seek out other work by this author, and that I thought the story was interesting and different. It's definitely for mature teens on their way out of high school towards their own resolutions!

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