There’s always that one book I find at the bookstore that I expect to be great because of the synopsis and/or overall look of the book. (I know; those are never accurate prerequisites when choosing a novel to read.) However, lately, I’ve been choosing the wrong books. Ones that seem to be great, and most of the time have good reviews, but in the end just aren’t. Some are actually terrible, but others are simply not good, like “Althea & Oliver” by Cristina Moracho.
Set in the 1990s in Wilmington, NC and later NYC, Moracho’s first ever novel follows high school juniors Althea Carter and Oliver McKinley as they deal with the impossibilities life throws at them while still trying to hold on to the parts of each other that they have known their whole lives – plus navigate the end of high school and college. Having been introduced at six-years-old when Oliver’s single mother desperately needed a babysitter and knocked on Althea’s single father’s door searching for a last minute attempt, the two instantly connected and were conjoined at the hip ever since. However, during their junior year, Oliver develops Kleine-Levin Syndrome, turning both of their worlds upside down. While he has to deal with the frustrations and heartbreak of a syndrome that makes him sleep for several weeks to several months straight, only waking up to use the bathroom, eat, or become a deranged version of himself, Althea has to deal with finding the version of herself that isn’t just the other half of Oliver.
While the synopsis of the plot is really what drew me in, the novel itself was too clipped. Clipped meaning it was too under-detailed and choppy in transition. In one chapter, Oliver is falling asleep while Althea helps him inside while the next chapter is her smoking cigarettes with her blonde hair dyed black. Where were the in-between moments? Althea was fine, and then suddenly she was part delinquent. It didn’t make the story flow badly and there were more details than what I just listed, but it sometimes was confusing and made Althea out to be this crazy, dramatic best friend who was not only in love with Oliver, but weirdly obsessed with him too. The only reason this put me off was because Oliver was in no way described as being the same way. Sure, he loved Althea, but he handled it, in my opinion, normally. She went buck-wild.
For being a first novel, I have to give Moracho credit. Writing books is not easy, and this book didn’t completely suck, it just wasn’t my favorite. I can see why it has a decent rating on Goodreads, and I am probably being a little too critical considering I did genuinely enjoy reading their adventures in NYC (you know, after Oliver went to a clinic to be treated for KLS and then Althea lied to her father and drove her car all the way there at seventeen and randomly found twenty-year-old hippie/hipsters to take her in while she waited for Oliver to wake up), but the overall story was too simple. The only reason I say that is because it seemed like Moracho was trying to create a reality that people could relate to – I mean, she included major highways and specific locations like Alphabet City in Manhattan – but it was too unrealistic. I genuinely don’t know a single parent who would let their seventeen-year-old daughter drive all the way to New Mexico from Wilmington, North Carolina to visit their estranged mother, and then allow her to stay in New York City with complete strangers after a month of her lying about her whereabouts. Also, I know Althea had a hard time with Oliver’s diagnosis considering they were conjoined at the hip and then suddenly not for months on end, but she took it worse than he did. I understand illnesses like that are sometimes harder for the people around them, but she turned it into something about herself. If that’s the way to find yourself, I don’t like it.
Overall, I give “Althea & Oliver” a four out of ten. Moracho’s writing was easy to follow and gave enough details for me to picture what was happening with ease, but the actual happenings of the novel were too unrealistic when they didn’t have to be. I know it’s a fiction novel, but sometimes it was too outrageous. However, the novel is a good read when looking for something light with a little bit of romance and a whole lot of drama. But they weren’t true Geminis, no matter how many times Moracho tried to get that point across. Maybe Althea (I think Leo or Scorpio fits her better), but definitely not the obviously Aquarius Oliver. Sorry, not sorry.