Your next YA read: ‘Althea and Oliver’ by Cristina Moracho
Althea and Oliver have been super close best friends since they were six years old. . .but as they get older, Althea wants to become more than just best friends. She’s developing romantic feelings for Oliver, and he doesn’t seem to feel the same way.
Sounds like a pretty typical unrequited love story, right? Well, Althea & Oliver puts a slight twist on the genre. Oliver isn’t just emotionally unavailable; he’s also physically unavailable. Oliver has a sleep disorder that causes him to fall asleep at unexpected times. And he doesn’t just fall asleep for one night; when he’s out, he’s out for weeks.
An unpredictable, weeks-long nap would be a challenge for any friendship, but it’s killer for one with as many unresolved feelings as Althea and Oliver’s. A big blow up is inevitable, and when it happens, Oliver takes off for a sleep study in New York without even saying goodbye to Althea. Althea, unable to forget her feelings for Oliver, decides to follow him there. But what will happen once they’re actually together?
Let’s get one thing straight: this book isn’t really a typical love story. Nothing against typical love stories (you’re talking to the girl who wrote an entire article about the fine art of YA romance), but this book is about something else entirely. Althea is, to quote the poets known as Savage Garden, truly, madly, deeply head-over-heels for Oliver. She’s willing to drop whatever she’s doing every time he wakes up and take whatever crumbs of attention he’ll give her. And while Oliver’s not a bad person at all, he doesn’t feel that way for her. So how do they reconcile that? Althea & Oliver contemplates a tricky question: what happens when love is truly unrequited, even when both people wish that it wasn’t?
This is the sort of book I would’ve gone crazy for in high school. I mean, I love it now as an adult, but as a kid who spent a lot of time reading and studying and generally just wishing I had an Althea-and-Oliver friendship, I would’ve loved to live vicariously through their adventures. Althea and Oliver go to punk shows in basements, talk on rooftops, hang out with vegan activists, dress up as JFK and Jackie O, and at one point, sort of flood a bathroom. It reminds me of how important Perks of Being a Wallflower was when I was 16, how it showed me that you could break out of your shell and have new experiences, even if they seemed scary. You could meet new friends, even if they seem intimidating. In Althea’s case, that means she might be able to start another life, one that doesn’t involve waiting around for Oliver while he’s asleep for who-knows-how-long. It’s not that Oliver and Althea are any less important to each other, but the book examines the difficult growing pains of changing friendships. As much as Oliver wants things to go back to “normal,” sometimes you just can’t go back.
Althea & Oliver is a great book that truly captures intense teenage feelings–which is to say, it’s my favorite kind of book. Not only does Cristina Moracho’s writing feel urgent and poetic, but she manages to create characters who never feel boring or thin. Even the parents are fully fleshed-out humans (not always the case in YA). If I’m not making myself clear: go buy this book! Read it now!
What about you guys? Have you read Althea & Oliver? Let me know in the comments! And, as always, I love to hear your suggestions for books to feature in Young Adult Education. Leave a comment, send me an email at [email protected] or find me on Twitter @KerryAnn.