On the list of benefits of my boyfriend working for the major bookseller, I can now add “Finding New Authors to Fall in Love With”. Cristina Moracho’s Althea & Oliver is a perfect work of fiction, and I eagerly await what she comes out with next.
In a style slightly similar to Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist (in my opinion, anyway), Althea & Oliver is about two lifelong best friends in North Carolina who are starting to feel differently about one another. Althea is all of a sudden attracted to Oliver in a consuming, inconvenient sort of way; Oliver is noticing this attraction and noticing Althea’s many female attributes but truly doesn’t want things to change between them. In addition to Oliver not quite returning Althea’s feelings, they face another obstacle: He tends to fall asleep for days, weeks, even months at a time. It’s like an extreme case of narcolepsy (Kleine-Levin Syndrome) with not-completely-awake, ravenous, angry episodes throughout each sleeping period.
While Oliver is asleep, Althea has to manage junior year of high school without her only friend. She becomes better friends with people she knew through Oliver, but when Oliver wakes up from a particularly long episode (during which he and Althea actually lost their virginity to one another but he can’t remember because of his condition) he is not pleased with her relationship with one friend, Coby. That, and him not remembering their sexual encounter, makes Althea very angry, and in a frenzy she sleeps with Coby (at his house) then beats him to a bloody pulp (during school), earning herself an expulsion. Completely fed up, Oliver flees North Carolina for New York to be part of a special KLS clinical study, and shortly thereafter Althea follows, and this is without question the best part of the book. Oliver can finally be comforted, to the extent possible, by other teenage boys suffering from the mysterious disease, while Althea hits her lowest point, on the verge of homelessness, waiting for Oliver to wake up from an episode in the hospital. She is rescued by some do-gooder Brooklynites, who adopt her into an awesome little make-shift hippie family, and these characters are so obviously written by a true New Yorker. Eventually Oliver wakes up and he and Althea meet again, but I’ll leave the rest for you to find out.
Moracho is by no means replacing my No. 1 gal Sarah Dessen, but with a few more books like this she will be right at that level. In her author’s note in the advanced copy (ahem, yes I have advanced copies now), she asks the reader to think about the book not as a “YA novel” but as a work of literature with teenagers in it. She couldn’t have been more right — I think teenagers can certainly read and enjoy this book, but to fully understand and appreciate the full range of crap Althea and Oliver go through, one has to have already lived through high school and come out on the other side.