Althea and Oliver

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MY FELLOW REVIEWERS, I have a difficult question for you to answer: what are your issues with this glorious book? I have owned Althea and Oliver by Cristina Moracho for the longest time ever—perhaps since it was released. I think I remember purchasing it a few weeks after it was initially released because I needed another Eleanor and Park in my life. This is a riskier, wilder, but exactly the same real example of the Eleanor and Park that we readers all know and love. This is the story of two best friends who are so close that no one else understands them the way the other does, and how they need to rely on each other for so much. There is so much negativity, debates going around about how the author handled rape (which I do have my opinion on, I’ll get into it) and how the book was boring. But honestly? I didn’t see barely any negativity—this was just a great read that I’m so happy to own in my book collection.

Sometimes anticipation goes down the drain. That happens quite frequently with me. Sometimes, anticipation is totally worth it. I decided to read Althea and Oliver on a road trip where I brought all hardcovers, all books that scream “SUMMER” and “SUMMER COLOURS.” Obviously, yellow is a summery colour, so I just grabbed this one and went with it. I was super excited to read it. Thankfully my expectations were correct. This book just WOWed me. I am still shocked with the ending to this very day, weeks later. I am shocked with the way that Moracho handled the romance, how she didn’t take Althea and Oliver, two best friends who are as close as two peas in a pod, that she didn’t take them and implanted them into each other—make them a fictional couple who are so in love and are starstruck with why or how they did not notice the other person years ago. This went in a complete different direction and I promise you, if you decide to read this, you will agree with me: you never have read a book that ends like this.

Fluffy at times and all, where Althea and Oliver just cannot stop obsessing over each other as they are separated at two different parts of the country, this has a very complex set of themes and ideas that Cristina planned out perfectly. This is not fantasy—the fact that Oliver sleeps for weeks and wakes up out of nowhere—Oliver’s condition, Kleine-Levin syndrome is not fake. I searched it up after being so mesmerized with the topic, and it is a real illness that’s rare, yes, but that exists with many people. This is not a book about a boy having experienced something tragic and is undergoing amnesia. Oliver sleeps, out of nowhere, and loses the bits of his life that would be important to him if he was able to see it, or in fact, live it.

This is where the rape issue comes in. Many have deducted high ratings because of what happened between Althea and Oliver at one point of the novel, before he heads to New York City to be watched and monitored by that ultra-cool doctor of his. No one really mentions it, but Moracho hints at male sexual violence, in a way. Althea sleeps with Oliver, but he doesn’t remember any of it, his first time, when he wakes up, because he was half-awake, or however Oliver’s mother likes to call it. Althea should know half-asleep Oliver from fully-awake Oliver—I even noticed. Oliver didn’t really give consent, and after he woke up, he was pissed at Althea, which creates this horrible tension in the novel, and next thing Althea knows, her first love is in New York City, being treated for his condition without saying goodbye because he’s too upset at Althea.

“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” (327).

It looked like rape to me—but I wasn’t so annoyed. I just hated how Althea denied it—she thought that she was perfect and the best, never doing any wrong. Don’t get me wrong—I loved Althea as a character, but she was too arrogant, too much of a trouble-maker for me to believe that she didn’t mean it or whatnot. I see that many people are thinking the exact same thing as me. From the two, I loved Oliver and his story much more, comparing to Althea’s. And this was never mentioned, but I wonder if Althea just went to NYC to find Oliver to apologize. She was a crazy man-freak who really didn’t put that much emotion into her love for Oliver as Oliver did, you know? It was really, really interesting to see the twist on this story that people stereotypically see the opposite of.

From beginning to end, this was just so enjoyable. I finished reading this in one sitting, one sitting full of laughs, but mostly constant page-flipping because I was just so intrigued with Moracho’s writing. The writing was lyrical, poetic and so real. It screamed out summer, fall, and all of the seasons because as we got to know Althea and Oliver more and more, time passed by and they were caught with different things in their lives. The story starts off in North Carolina, a new favourite setting of mine where it’s basically summer all year long, and then progressed into NYC, my favourite city in the entire universe.

This book is the anthem for the power of books. Althea and Oliver is completely original, taken place in the 90s where we read about mixtapes (which are currently trending again), times with no cell phones and a different life that I, myself, hadn’t ever experienced because of my age. I just want to listen to The Backstreet Boys and jam, thinking about this powerful story that caused me to think about relationships, life and just… everything.

Althea and Oliver is mesmerizing, addicting and powerful. It contains a variety of messages, some that pop up to some people, and others that intrigue other people. It’s all about the perspective that you look at these characters, and how you treat life. It’s philosophical, real, and has no inch of fantasy that will make you doubt anything that happened in the plot. I couldn’t stop reading, and my mouth still has an “O” shape out of shock. That ending—that was unbelievably great.

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