What happens when what you thought was the truth, what you spent your life expecting, turns out not to be true? Althea & Oliver leads the reader to an interesting and unexpected answer to that question.
It is the mid-1990s, in Wilmington, NC. Althea is the 17 year old punk ass bad girl half of the best friend duo who met when they were 6 years old, and have been inseperable ever since. She is athletic, artistic, impulsive and unsociable; Oliver is all she thinks she needs. Oliver is the good boy, the conscience and the social half, a studious, serious teen who wants to study astronomy at MIT and one day save the world.
Their junior year in high school, Oliver gets sick. He is diagnosed with Kleine-Levin Syndrome – he falls asleep and loses weeks, even months, of his life. Althea must learn to deal with blocks of time without her other half, because her life can’t stop, even though it sometimes feels it should.
And life does go on without him, which is hard enough for both to accept. He wakes up to a different world each time, where he is just expected to fit back in with everyone else. But during one of these extended sleeps, something bad happens; Althea makes a really bad decision and hides it from him. When she finally gets the nerve to tell, he is devastated. Furious, he ends the friendship and leaves town.
What happens when she follows is the real story.
Althea & Oliver looked like a simple, predicable love story: friends forever, fall in love, hit a few bumps, find each other again, live happily ever after. It was not.
Teenagers make stupid decisions. All the time. You just hope the decisions are made in a safe environment. At that age, we all thought we were smart, we knew more than anyone else. But let’s be honest with hindsight: we made stupid decisions too. We were inappropriate and indestructible. And somehow, we survived. Teenage relationships are fraught with pitfalls at the best of times. They can be unhealthy, they can break down, and it’s not pretty.
Althea and Oliver and all their friends are those teens. Sometimes their behaviour seemed so real, and other times, I think author Cristina Moracho was forcing the story to get to her desired ending. There seemed to be no consequences for any actions – heavy drinking, drugs, sex – all just seemed to be part and parcel of the teens’ days. Although parents were present in the story, they didn’t seem parental at all. Moracho had to let the teens live lives of their own control in order to make her story happen, and a whole town of uninvolved parents seems hard to swallow.
So, try as I might, I did not love the book. It was good. The conclusion was fantastic. I loved how it did not go where expected. But there were too many inconsistencies for me to totally believe it.
Appropriate for teens 14 and up.
Althea & Oliver is published by Penguin.