REVIEW: Pieces of Olivia by Melissa West
Olivia Warren used to be a normal girl with a bright future.
But on one fated night, everything changed.
Hiding the scars of her past up her sleeves, Olivia transfers her enrollment from Columbia University to The College of Charleston, determined to pursue her own dreams for the first time in her life.
She intends to allow herself a bit of alone time to heal… that is, until she meets Preston.
Preston is best friends with her roommate, completely hot, and off-limits. But the chemistry between them is instantaneous—and as the pair begins to spend more time with one another, their feelings for each other build into something undeniable, something powerful enough to heal Olivia’s deepest scars.
Olivia tries to put her own past behind her and trust Preston, but she discovers that his past might be more present than she ever bargained for…
Dear Ms. West,
There is nothing particularly new or revolutionary in this story. There are a lot of New Adult books around which have a heroine getting over a past trauma (and most times the trauma is only slowly revealed, as is the case here) and a hero who has secrets in his past but they’ve worked for me in books such as Wait For You by J. Lynn and My Favourite Mistake by Chelsea M. Cameron and I was hoping for a similar experience here.
I had mixed feelings about the book. There was a lot I enjoyed – particularly the writing style and Olivia’s journey but I struggled with parts of the plot and I felt like the research about some aspects of Olivia’s medical condition was underdone.
I’m happy to report there is no sexual violence in this book.
Olivia was injured in a fire and has scars resulting from second and third degree burns she sustained. The exact circumstances of the fire are doled out over the course of the book. At times I found it a little frustrating but I was nevertheless affected by the depth of Olivia’s grief, particularly because she survived the fire and others close to her did not. It so happens I had a second degree burn a few years ago so I have cause to know a bit about how burns are treated and the hospital where I was treated has the pre-eminent Burns Unit in the country. (I scalded my left leg with hot tea and I required surgery to debride the wound – I had synthetic skin placed over it but was a hop, skip and a jump from needing a skin graft. I was in hospital for a week and in treatment for another month after and I was not allowed to expose my leg to ANY sun for twelve months. I have no scars. I also have been peripherally involved with people making claims for personal injury for serious burns (a plane crash) so I know I got out of it lucky.) Olivia has “second and third degree” burns on her arms, mainly her left arm, worse at her left biceps. It is only six months after the fire. There was no talk of skin grafts which she would surely have needed. There was no mention of compression garments to flatten out the scars. Olivia wears UPF shirts to hide her scars but there is no mention of her actually needing protection from the sun. (I wasn’t even allowed to go to the letter box at the front of our house with my leg exposed to the sun – for a whole year, so I found it difficult to believe). While I know my own experience isn’t a monolith, it only took a little Googling to find this fact sheet about the treatment of serious burns and that refers to compression garments being required for up to 2 years and the pain of skin grafts. That said, the book really doesn’t go into much detail at all about the treatment Olivia had. Perhaps it was just that a lot of the detail was absent but I felt this aspect of the story presented a somewhat inaccurate picture.
In any event, it is Olivia’s emotional scars which are her biggest problem. She had been due to attend Columbia but after the fire, she decided to go to the College of Charleston instead, for reasons which are explained in the book. Her parents are apparently disappointed by this turn of events (I think there is more than a little unreliable narrating going on in relation to her parents) but nonetheless insist Olivia see a therapist while she is there. She sees a lady by the name of Rose, who appears to be somewhat of an unusual psychologist. I was
a little taken aback by the description of her in the novel.
“You must be Olivia. I’m Rose,” the woman in the doorway said. She had short gray hair and wore a crisp white dress shirt tucked into black slacks with pleats. Shiny flats peeked out from the bottoms of her slacks instead of heels. The look was entirely masculine, like she hadn’t quite gotten the memo that she was a woman, not a man.
Rose seems to have a somewhat unusual therapeutic style but I don’t have any experience really to judge whether it could be authentic. Sometimes I wondered though because it felt very… different. Even to the point that she was smoking like a train during every session. (Are the smoking laws different in the US? Over here, it would be illegal.) I liked Rose though. She was quirky and funny and she genuinely cared for Olivia. Her matter of fact way of telling it like it is made me laugh sometimes.
“You’ll have to do better than grunts and heavy sighs of injustice. You’re embarking on adulthood. We use words.”
There were a couple of times in the book where the wrong word was used and I had an Inigo Montoya moment.
I had always loved old movies, but now that my life had taken a sharp left turn, I found myself mesmerized by them, eager to learn how the actresses looked so poised while their lives were in turmoil. I tried to immolate that strength. And I was ready to take on my first shopping experience with Kara as the perfect opportunity to test my newfound pretend strength.
Olivia’s roommate at the college is Kara and Kara’s best friend is Preston Riggs, a sophomore majoring in biology. His family is wealthy but he is on the outs with his dad because he wants to be a pediatrician rather than go into the family business. I found it a little difficult to accept the animus over it. There were a few incongruities as well – when we first meet Preston he says that his dad refused to support him over the summer (to teach him monetary responsibility and possibly also in protest for Preston having the “wrong” major) and so he is working in a diner to support himself. However, not all that long after, he takes Olivia fishing in one of his two boats, which are stored in a facility which he owns (ie it is a storage business). (He bought it with some of the proceeds of his share of the inheritance from his grandfather’s estate.)
Preston is a gorgeous, smart guy with a charming smile and a great sense of humour. He also doesn’t date or do relationships because of a mysterious something in his past. When the big reveal came though, I thought it showed a certain level of immaturity to have the reaction he did. It would be too spoilerish to say what happened to make him so relationship-shy but I didn’t see being so actually protecting him from a repeat and in any event, I’m not sure he could have done anything about it (the mysterious thing) anyway. While I understood his grief/upset I had less sympathy with his assertion things should have been different. There. That’s pretty vague isn’t it?
There is another “secret” too which, honestly, it was telegraphed so much I have no idea how Olivia didn’t work it out for herself. And really, that whole subplot had me scratching my head. But again, spoilerishness means I can’t go into more detail here.
So, that’s a lot of negative. But.
I was moved by Olivia’s grief in particular and her journey to put herself back together after the events of six months before. Possibly I’m a sap, but I did get teary a couple of times as I read. I was affected and when I was, I didn’t feel I had been manipulated into it. And, even though I was puzzled by some things to do with Preston, I did like him and I liked the dynamic of Olivia and Preston together.
I liked the writing style – it was very readable and not overly flowery. I thought the sex scenes were the weakest part of it actually – there, adjectives and over the top metaphor tended to reign, even though the scenes themselves were fairly short.
I thought the college setting and the detail about Charleston gave the story a great sense of place without being overly detailed or slowing the pace of the story. There was one thing the professor who teaches Poetry did (relating to confidentiality) that I think those who work in higher education might struggle with – it seemed inappropriate and there was really no context to it or any explanation for it afterwards.
The story wrapped up quickly and for a little while there I was worried it was going to have a cliffhanger ending but I’m happy to report that it’s a stand alone story – I think the next book in the series will feature Kara.
It wasn’t all heavy and deep – there were lighter moments and some chuckle-worthy humour. Like when Preston is introduced to Olivia’s dad for the first time:
Dad nodded. “Are you related to Roy and Carter Riggs?”
“I am. Carter is my dad.”
Dad’s demeanor changed from overprotective dad to fully supportive, let-me-plan-the-wedding dad right before my eyes.
Even though I had a lot of issues with the storyline and some things strained my credulity, I did find the writing style engaging and easy to sink into. I’d be interested in reading another book by you because I think you have a lovely voice.