Our Way Back to Always
Luisa (Lou) Patterson grew up across the street from Sam Alvarez in the small, quirky town of Port Coral. They used to be inseparable—spending every holiday together, shooting silly YouTube videos, and rescuing stray cats. But then middle school happened, including the most disastrous (and embarrassing) serenade ever, and Lou and Sam haven't talked in the four years since. Sam is now the golden boy with plenty of friends, while Lou is an introverted romantic who's happy playing video games and writing fan fiction. But it's also the summer before their senior year, and life is knocking on Lou's door.
With her older sister having given up a scholarship to Princeton to have a baby and work at the local botanica, all of their mother's expectations are now riding on Lou's shoulders. She's retaking her SAT's, signed up for way too many AP classes, and her sights set on colleges with fancy names like Duke and Vanderbilt. But when she finds the bucket list she and Sam wrote together as kids, before Sam's father was diagnosed with cancer, she's shocked to see that she hasn't accomplished any of the goals she'd set for herself. Go to a party? Nope. Pull the greatest prank of all time? Still no. Learn how to be a really good kisser? Definitely not.
Torn between the future that her mother, sister, and younger self planned for her, Lou sets out to finish the list, and in a stroke of destiny or fate, Sam decides to tag along. Still trying to stay afloat amid the grief of losing his father, Sam himself is staring down a future that feels all too close, and is coming far too fast. But with the bucket list to guide them, Sam and Lou might just be able to find a way through the future, and also a way back to each other.
To accomplish the first thing on the list, she'll need Sam's help. Although she insists it will be a one time thing, she cannot help but fall back into Sam's orbit, and this time, he is determined to do everything better.
What I loved: Sam and Lou were both incredible characters with their own stories, and the book is told between their two perspectives. Sam has been reeling since his father died from cancer about a year ago, and his whole life and expectations for the future have changed. He knows he wants to take care of his family, his mother and little sister as well his abuela who now lives with them and puts everything into the dryer (including his now very shrunken swimtrunks). He has given up his dream of college, but as he works on the bucket list and experiences new things, he realizes that he may be able to give himself the space to find a new dream - one that will fulfill him. Grief is not a linear process, and Sam is still going through it, but the other side begins to seem possible.
Lou (Luisa) has a lot of hopes and expectations for herself. After her older sister gave up her spot at Princeton when she found out she was pregnant, Lou has felt extra pressure to go to a good school out of state. She wants to have a respectable career, but between her ADHD that makes school difficult and her passion for games and apps, the weight of such a future feels crushing at times. In many ways like Sam, Lou is trying to find herself amidst all the change and figure out how to live her life for herself. With her passion for rescuing cats, creating an app that will shine, and her knitting club with the viejitos, as well as the quest of the bucket list with Sam, Lou's life is changing in ways she did not anticipate.
In addition to these two great stories with lessons about finding yourself, reaching for your own goals, and determining your personal best paths, the romance here was lovely. Sam and Lou were perfect for each other, and the only people who didn't know it were Sam and Lou. With support from their friends and a community I would love to be a part of, this was a book that really shone. Intriguing themes, best friend romance, bucket lists, humor, community, and love all made this such a fantastic YA contemporary read.
Final verdict: A compelling and charming coming-of-age story, OUR WAY BACK TO ALWAYS is a stunning read about love, community, and finding your own way. Highly recommend picking up this excellent read.