Lou Paterson and Sam Alvarez were best friends until one fateful day in middle school left Lou humiliated. Now despite being neighbors and living in the small town of Port Coral, the two refuse to speak. But then Lou finds a high school bucket list they made together and is determined to finish it without Sam. But then Sam agrees to help Lou with the list, and they set off to complete it before their high school graduation.
When Nina Moreno wrote Don’t Date Rosa Santos, I bawled. So, I knew this sequel set in Port Coral would not disappoint, and I was not wrong.
Whereas Don’t Date Rosa Santos played on the idea of finding one’s cultural identity and cherishing any detail about her grandmother’s life in Cuba, Our Way Back to Always focuses on two teens trying to figure out their future.
There’s Lou, who feels like she needs to succeed her older sister, Elena. Elena was admitted to an ivy league, got pregnant, and never attended. And because Lou’s mother was an undocumented immigrant who became a tenured professor, she feels the pressure to live up to both of them. However, Lou knows deep down she doesn’t have the grades to attend an ivy league, and in her heart, she would love to work on coding and creating video games.
Then there’s Sam, whose plan for the future only includes a high school diploma. His father’s death completely changed his plans to attend university. And Sam chose to stay with his family and help them financially through the aftermath. But then Sam learns that his path doesn’t have to be traditional.
While this story also deals with grief and learning to confront it, it’s a different kind of heartbreak than in Moreno’s first novel. Sam’s grief is recent but does not occur in this novel, so readers experience the aftershocks.
Although grief is one of the themes of this novel, I enjoyed the emphasis on generational trauma that Lou experiences.
Lou’s mother knew she had to succeed as an undocumented immigrant because her parents risked and sacrificed so much to move to the states, but she unknowingly passed down that stress to her daughters. I loved that Moreno toyed with the definition of success in this context because it varies from person to person. However, both Lou and Elena feel the pressure from society to be college-educated Latinas and Jefas. When they are both badasses. As Kali Uchis once wisely said, “if you need a hero, just look in the mirror.”
Lou measured her success by way of a college degree, while Sam measures it in a way that brings happiness but also supports his family.
Okay, that’s enough analyzing themes now to the good stuff. I’m sure we all know by now my feelings on the friends to lovers trope and how I feel that enemies to lovers is far superior. However, I am starting to warm up to the idea of friends and lovers. Much like the characters of A Lot Like Adios, Lou and Sam’s friendship was complicated and messy. And I found that I very much enjoyed this added layer to the friendship.
Also, I wanted to casually mention that Port Corral has some Sam and Lou shippers, which I found super entertaining in this story.
CW: Grief, death of a parent, cancer, pregnancy, and car accident
Until next week readers you can find me living in libros,
(Oh by the way, you can now find me on tiktok at living in libros.)
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