Althea & Oliver by Cristina Moracho | Estelle Reviews

Althea and Oliver by Cristina MorachoAlthea & Oliver by Cristina Moracho ( web | tweet )
Publication Date: October 6, 2014
Publisher: Viking Juvenile
Pages: 384
Target audience: Young adult
Keywords: friendship, 90s, New York City, romance, sickness
Format read: ARC borrowed from Gaby at Book Broads. (Thanks!)

Summary: Althea and Oliver have been best friends since they were kids. Althea realizes she wants something beyond friendship with Oliver around the same time he keeps falling asleep for long periods of time and no one knows what’s causing this to happen. Set in the 90s, the story brings Oliver to New York for a possible treatment while Althea stays in Wilmington. She decides to drive up to New York City to find Oliver, but ends up finding something entirely different.

I’m going to go out on a limb and say that Althea & Oliver is probably the YA that the naysayers don’t realize exists. It’s literary, it’s layered in its storylines and the emotions build up in all of them, and not even close to fluffy. In fact, I would call the general feeling of this book melancholy.

If you haven’t guessed from the above description, Althea & Oliver is not exactly a story you are going to fly through. I was unsure if I was actually liking what I was reading for a long time. How can you like a girl doting over her best friend? What if that best friend is basically disappearing for weeks out of time because of some mysterious illness? I mean, there’s nothing truly happy here. But I was intrigued by Oliver’s strange health issues and I was hooked by the friendship between the two. Oliver and Althea maintained an intimacy that you don’t find a lot in young adult books. Sure, feelings beyond platonic were swirling around there but you can’t deny their closeness — how their families knew each other so well, how they always seemed to be stuck together, and how they accepted each other, faults and all.

I love how Moracho gave these characters room to grow beyond each other. Things happen, Oliver is off to New York, and Althea is acting out back in North Carolina. She makes the decision to lie to her dad and head to New York and talk to Oliver, and a major detour changes the course of the story. This is a tough one to review, friends, because so much happens that you need to discover for yourself. But what happens when you are so dependent on a friend and they can’t be there for you anymore? Do you continue to push this closeness or do you let the wind take you? Do you take this opportunity to get to know yourself without the other person? Will both of you ever be ready to take your relationship to the next level at the same time?

So much about Althea & Oliver felt more mature than a lot of other young adult books I read. I couldn’t help thinking it was the lack of technology in the story because it was set in the 90s. There was nothing keeping anyone together when they were apart except for some stray phone calls. Both Althea’s dad and Oliver’s mom allowed their kids to be very independent. These details definitely allowed the characters to do their own thing but it also didn’t disqualify their parents from the story either. (Big thumbs up.)

These two characters certainly hit rock bottom in two very different ways, and it was so emotional and heartbreaking and authentic how they climbed out of these holes and figured out next steps. I wouldn’t even say this book is about coming to clear conclusions but making the right decisions for right now, and keeping the future open. It’s so scary to jump into the unknown and this feeling is basically the theme of being a junior in high school. Moracho nailed it, making my heart swell and burst so many times.

I cannot wait to see what she is writing much, and I look forward to more thoughtful, and engulfing young adult books like this one.

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Estelle: Paper Airplanes by Dawn O’Porter

Paper Airplanes by Dawn O'PorterPaper Airplanes by Dawn O’Porter ( web | tweet )
Publication Date: September 9, 2014
Publisher: Amulet
Pages: 272
Target audience: Young adult
Keywords: friendship, parents, school
Format read: ARC from Publisher via NetGalley.

Summary: Even though they are students at the same school, Renee and Flo meet at a party. Kind of. Flo saves Renee from an already embarrassing situation, and soon they find themselves stealing away to have an open friendship with one another. Both are at a place in their lives where they are feeling cast aside and nothing is truly in their hands. Together, they form an honest and undeniable bond but secrets force to break it all open.

Female friendship as the focal point in young adult books? We all know it does not happen a lot, and this is why I was so anxious to read Paper Airplanes by Dawn O’Porter. (Added bonus: all the British-isms since the book takes places there.) Unfortunately, this book (deemed gritty and powerful) did not win me over as much as I wanted it to. I’m breaking this one down with a list.

I loved:

  • This book truly depicts what it is like to fall in love with a friend. Even though Renee and Flo keep their friendship under wraps at first, I loved how they were able to be so honest with one another even when it sucked and especially because they didn’t have many people in their lives they could count on. The adventures, the notes, the encouragement: it was real and it was fantastic. I adored the way they loved each other.
  • The author conveys a very normal teenage life filled with tests, drinking, parties, and yes, sex. I thought it was great but because of other books I’ve read that have done it just as well, it did not feel quite as groundbreaking to me. (Though Renee’s “relationship” with a guy who obviously adores her and she can’t figure out why she doesn’t feel the same way? Great, great addition; happens so much and it’s difficult to explain to others and to ourselves.)
  • The time period. Hello, 1990s. Adios cellphones and the internet. So refreshing not to have an interruptions from texts and emails and focus more on how we communicated back then. Calling people on landlines, writing notes on paper airplanes, and sometimes having to wait to talk to someone because you never got their number. Ah, the joys of radio silence.

What didn’t work for me as much:

  • Something in the book truly irked me. It’s a big deal and I don’t want to reveal it here but it was so serious and I thought, not dealt with the way that it should have, especially as readers see how the book is wrapped up. I was so angry on behalf of one of our characters, and while I know not everything is going to be resolved completely, it seemed like it wasn’t taken as seriously as it should. Now maybe that’s just a reflection of our culture today? But still. Bothered. Angry.
  • The pacing. The action in the book truly picks up in the last third of the book, and, by then, it felt way too late. The middle dragged a bit and by the end, when things revved up, I wanted the book to be longer. It felt a off balance and didn’t keep my attention as much as I would have wanted it to.

In the end, Paper Airplanes was a toss up as far as a rating goes. I did get emotional when it came to these characters, and if you want to meet some of the most infuriating families in the history of literature, you will find it in this book. Not to mention one of the shittiest best friends ever. Oh gosh. I wanted to punch her in the face multiple times. I was so relieved Renee and Flo found each other, despite all the complications, because they needed someone on their side badly.

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