Our Way Back To Always by Nina Moreno
Publisher: Little Brown Books for Young Readers
Release Date: October 19, 2021
Cover Illustrator: Erick Dávila
Summary: 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.
My Rating: ★★★★☆
My Thoughts: Our Way Back To Always is as much a romance as it is a deep personal exploration of grief, family, self and figuring out your future. In her return to Port Coral, Moreno delivers a story heartfelt, emotional and so full of realism that instantly pulls the reader in. A YA about second chances, new beginnings, leaving the reader with an abundance of hope!
It’s no surprise that memorable beach town of Port Coral drew me in with Moreno’s 2019 debut ‘Don’t Date Rosa Santos’, and returning to this cozy small town truthfully, felt like home. Told from dual POV, we meet Lou Patterson an introverted, gamer and fanfic aficionado whose considering her university options as Senior year is swiftly moving and Sam Alvarez, golden boy drummer who is confronting internal grief with the loss of his father. Having been friends during their childhood, there’s a monumental amount of history between them and the beauty of this story is seeing how they reunite unexpectedly to finish their incomplete bucket list.
I don’t often read dual-POV romances, but this did not disappoint. Lou and Sam read as truly real people and came to life through the heartfelt writing. The history between them is such an integral part to their development and you can sense how it unravels the buried feelings they still carry for one another.
Lou is confronted with the idea she’s laid out for her future as she carries many expectations for herself and from her mother, a professor at Port Coral’s local community college. Sam on the other hand is more focused on figuring out the “what” of his future.
It’s the individual journeys of Sam and Lou that genuinely make this book what it is. Now I’ll delve into why this book not only took me quite a bit of time to read, but also how it helped me during my own moments of grief. I’ve mentioned in a couple posts that I’d lost my grandfather not too long ago and that’s perhaps why when I read Sam’s chapters, I read them with a different perspective than if I’d read this book months ago. In a way I’m incredibly glad I’d waited to read Moreno’s sophomore release because it was sort of like a my emotions went onto a ship that sailed throughout Sam’s familiar, yet uncertain story. I’ll admit at points his chapters were so difficult for me to get through because they dredged up emotions that are extremely difficult to put into words, but Moreno did it in some miraculous way. There were literal lines I’d read that had me thinking “YES! I’ve literally gone through that, WOW.” It felt almost therapeutic in that way to re-experience those emotions of anxiety or grief through him that *oof really hit me but reminded me what I’d been feeling was normal. What stuck with me though was throughout Sam’s story, Moreno never intends to make him magically let go of that grief, instead she explores how one can work through it, progressing a little at a time & how those beautiful memories are instead a reminder that the sadness we feel is also love.
I enjoyed how we experience Port Coral not only through the summer but through a school year from both their perspectives. With the romance tying the story together, you get the yearning from both their points of view, its adorable: kissing lessons, Sam waiting for Lou as she finished her SAT, holding their breaths in the pool, so many moments!! There’s also a special cameo that had me screaming…
The fears and worries Lou has about her college acceptances felt like a time capsule to my own fears when I first applied. As Lou develops her own app for the town and Sam figures out his path as a firefighter, I loved seeing new pockets of Port Coral that were explored.
With the amount of time it took me to read this (almost 2 months I think?) I found myself appreciating the quiet moments of Lou and Sam’s stories even more, though I will say that Sam’s emotional journey connected with me in so many ways I was not expecting.
I do wish there were just a couple more moments with Lou and Sam together because the yearning from two perspectives it was too much!! Waiting for them to admit their feelings, confront each other, Nina truly kept us eager to see where their relationship would be headed. Perhaps also a bit more page-time development and moments from the supporting cast as it neared the end too, but overall they each had their moments to shine.
This book was not only an exceptional deep dive into family, confronting grief and uncertain futures, but is about relationships anew and accepting change. Nina Moreno’s novel centers around a childhood friend-to-lovers story while also just being a cozy, beach town romance that gets you lost in the tight-knit lives and stories of these characters.
In her return to Port Coral, Moreno’s Our Way Back To Always is a genuine look at the idea of uncertain futures, the grief that we encounter and ultimately the path we decide for ourselves, while ever-altering, can be teeming with new possibilities and promise. With how this novel encapsulates family, community, love and the eventual road ahead as we grow up, this was a heartfelt coming-of-age romance!