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Ashlin & Olivia Kindle Edition
When young artist Olivia accompanied her Renaissance 101 class on a weeklong trip to Florence, she expected to encounter art history, not her own past. But on the night she arrives, Olivia runs into her old friend Ashlin in the shadow of Florence’s famous Duomo.
Olivia and Ashlin's intense junior high friendship left equally intense emotional scars when it collapsed years ago. But despite those painful memories, the two nonetheless begin to tentatively rebuild their friendship through discussions of art.
Olivia slowly realizes that Ashlin has also changed a great deal over the years - and how much the pain of their final rupture had distorted her own memories of their passionate friendship. Most of all, she realizes that she’s in love with Ashlin. But does the elusive Ashlin love her back? And if she does, have they both grown up enough that they can avoid repeating the mistakes that destroyed their relationship in the past?
- ASIN : B07SBFSHJ5
- Publication date : May 23, 2019
- Language : English
- File size : 679 KB
- Text-to-Speech : Enabled
- Screen Reader : Supported
- Enhanced typesetting : Enabled
- X-Ray : Not Enabled
- Word Wise : Enabled
- Print length : 169 pages
- Lending : Enabled
- Best Sellers Rank: #823,498 in Kindle Store (See Top 100 in Kindle Store)
- Customer Reviews:
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Half of the story is told in flashbacks, and feels like a classic middle-grade novel (though I appreciate the the author has taken the trouble to make the story feel like it's actually set in the early 2010s). The other half of the story, set in the present, deepens our perspective on the past events as we see Olivia reflect on her past, and provides a happy ending to what would otherwise be a bittersweet story.
Aster Glenn Gray has a talent for writing thoughtful, deeply earnest, and human characters who are passionate about their interests, and who reflect on their values and what they want in life. I'm happy to have meet Ashlin and Olivia, to see the qualities they bring out in each other, and enjoy their second chance adventure in Florence.
But in intense friendships, expectations can be very high, and yet people are just people, and kids in particular are still learning how to be in relationships with others. In that space misunderstandings, hurt feelings, and downright cruelty can happen. Super intense friendships can end exceptionally badly. But sometimes--maybe--the roots of the friendship are still alive, and something can grow anew.
The story follows both Ashlin and Olivia as children and as young adults who meet up by chance in Florence. If you were Ashlin, could you forgive Olivia? If you were Olivia, would you want to reconnect with Ashlin? Give it a read and see what you think.
I really enjoyed Briarley, by Aster Glenn Gray, an M/M WWI retelling of Beauty and the Beast, but the author's latest, Ashlin & Olivia, hit me right where I live. It's described as "an F/F second chance romance about two artists in love," and while that's not inaccurate, it really doesn't do justice to how deep the book dives into female friendships, which are often shown as either Heavenly Creatures level obsessive or something sweet you outgrow before giving your real attention to guys. (In fact I think there's only one named male character in the whole story, which is refreshing.) Ashlin and Olivia meet in a seventh-grade art class when Ashlin transfers in, and then meet again much later when Olivia travels to Florence for a week to study Renaissance art in college. The book is cleverly structured with chapters alternating between the present and the past, so as we see more and more of what happened between the two girls, we also realize -- along with Olivia -- that what really happened and what they both remember as having happened are very different. It's the same way you see more and more, the longer you look at a painting, or the way underlying sketches and painted-out parts can be revealed by oil paints deteriorating. (The metaphors used in the book itself include the difference between classical Greek structures as they're displayed then and now, and the restoration of the Sistine Ceiling.) Both girls are talented and their ambitious drives are powerful but muffled, and they take refuge in each other as much as they do in Art (which definitely needs the capital A there). In a more conventional novel, the jealousy they both feel over Olivia spending time with other people wouldn't be connected to love, and their friendship would quietly wither and be one of those things you mourn before putting childish (AKA non boy-related) things away. But when the two girls -- now young women, who have been to high school and college and made other friends but never forgotten each other -- meet again, they're able to _talk._ It's painful and halting and often embarrassing, but both of them are determined to salvage the connection they had so long ago. They loved each other then, and they never stopped loving each other. -- Now THAT, my friends, is new, or at least it's new to me (granted it has been actual decades since I was anywhere near the target market for YA books and I haven't done a lot of reading in the field since then). This book doesn't follow the typical Young Girls in Intense Friendships plotline I'm used to (one of the books it reminded me of, a little, was Deborah Hautzig's Hey Dollface from 1978) and it also doesn't follow a typical romance plotline either. There's a lot of physical attraction, which I appreciated, and affection, but there's no tidy resolution leading to an HEA, just because there are no neatly wrapped up HEAs in life itself. This is a book about how starting over is a new beginning, too; second chances are also first chances, just further on in experience and time. In this book, true love, like art, isn't easy, and is often as painful as it is ecstatically rewarding, but is also always worth it.
But on a more personal level, WHAM, this book _got me_. The author is really good at portraying the intense bubble that all very close friendships can become, especially ones between teenage girls -- or at least the culture loves to portray it that way -- but she's also good at showing the conflict& between those bubbles where everything is Serious and Shared, and relationships that are less intense but more relaxed and not focused on intensely shared passions. Olivia does love Ashlin, and she's talented and driven too, but she also wants to have fun, and this isn't presented as something frivolous or shameful on her part, but just part of life. Her friends aren't evil, and they react to Ashlin naturally. Ashlin's haughty and removed persona rests on past damage (which is revealed in a REALLY heartbreaking moment) and she withdraws further and further into Art to try to compensate for the disappointments of real life, which of course just damages her more. I identified with Ashlin's Very Serious Pronouncements so much that it hurt, but I also felt Olivia's longing for happiness and love of pop culture, and anxiety about balancing her passion and the regular daily things she loved. (I basically had Ashlin's background of artistic boho parents who bounced around every year or two, so I was just like, OH BABY. I KNOW. I KNOW.) Another new thing here is we're not encouraged to take Ashlin's side against Olivia, or vice versa, or blame Olivia's friends, or even blame Ashlin or Olivia for what happened in the past. Olivia's ready to throw everything to the wind for Ashlin to the extent it alarms her friends, her parents, and Ashlin, and I kept thinking that in a lot of ways, this book is about _balance:_ between life and art, work and joy, even love and obsession. OH HOW I WISH I had had it to read as a thirteen-year-old (the other book I really feel that way about is Pamela Dean's Juniper Gentian and Rosemary). If to love something is to truly _see_ it, this book is about being committed to seeing as clearly as possible.
From then on, the story alternates chapters from when Ashlin and Olivia were both thirteen, and in the present day when they’re both 21. At first it feels very cozy and idyllic, but it soon becomes clear that that’s a reflection of how Olivia idolized Ashlin. The depiction of what it feels like to be 13 and have a friend who’s your entire world and who understands you like no one ever has before, and how you create a two-person reality together, is incredibly vivid. And so is the depiction of the downside of that, and the intensity of being 13 in general.
There’s nothing melodramatically tragic going on – just ordinary pain and ordinary joy – but it’s intense in a way that captures the intensity of those particular experiences. If you’ve ever experienced social anxiety or had a bad experience trying to introduce a new friend to old friends, you will relate.
It’s a romance, and a very believable, sensual one at that, but a bit of an unconventional one in that its main concerns are slightly to the side of the usual concerns of romance. (Perception, memory, a specific set of real-life experiences – there’s a moment involving crushed magnolias that is just brilliant.) The ending is more romance-conventional than the rest of the book, and I could have used it being either more open-ended or for it to be longer.
A lovely story and one that I think many readers could really relate to.