Title: Waking Olivia
Author: Elizabeth O’Roark
Genre: New Adult, Romance, Contemporary
His father’s debt, a failing farm and a floundering track team. College coach Will Langstrom already has too many responsibilities, and the last thing he needs is Olivia, a beautiful new addition to his team with a bad attitude and a troubled past.
Abandoned and broken, Olivia trusts no one — especially not the cocky track coach the rest of the team adores. But when her past is revealed to Will, she discovers another side to him — one she could grow to love. Forced together by a secret no one else can know – and breaking university rules to do it – Will and Olivia’s connection deepens. As does an attraction that could cost them everything.
Before anything else, I received a digital copy of this book (via NetGalley) in exchange for an honest review. Many thanks to the publishers!
Where do I even begin? Waking Olivia left me emotionally reeling, that’s for sure. This is such a difficult review to write because as much as I enjoyed reading it, I cannot turn a blind eye to the book’s faults. Having said that, I’ll try to keep this brief by breaking things down and discussing one element at a time.
Characters? O’Roark’s characters were exceptionally fleshed out and greatly dimensional. In the story, there was an allowance to help readers better understand the characters, learn more about their inner demons, and consequently, cultivate empathy. However, as well-developed as they were, the characters were, at best, rather prickly but at worst, frustrating to deal with. Both Olivia and Will had more than their fair share of anger management issues. Personally, I think this was an intentional move on the author’s part and I had no problem with it. As difficult as they were, I still managed to empathize with their plight both as individuals and as a romantically involved couple.
Based on the other Goodreads reviews I’ve read, a number of people eventually tired of Olivia’s attitude and her constant self-loathing. On the contrary, I actually liked Olivia a whole lot more than the other characters (except maybe for Brendan and Dorothy). Despite not having the most endearing personality, her defense mechanisms were, in my opinion, fascinating to read about and occasionally relatable.
Interestingly enough, I ended up despising Will. While I did appreciate his obvious concern for Olivia, I found him to be quite the ass throughout most of the book. His issues with anger management and frequent jealousy were largely worse and significantly more harmful than Olivia’s. He was always unreasonably demanding, he was infuriatingly selfish, and he seemed to translate his feelings in the most destructive manner. I also did not care for his underlying resentment towards everyone (even his own brother) for not having his ideal lifestyle and career path. I mean yeah, okay, I get you, Will. You have a lot of responsibilities on your plate and a farm to take care of, but start being an actual adult and stop whining like a petulant brat.
Plot? I really, really liked how the sports aspect played into the plot. I loved how Olivia’s love for running and Will’s passion for climbing were both explored and sufficiently highlighted. It was really refreshing to read about, especially in a new adult contemporary romance as these things are rarely mentioned in such a genre.
The storyline itself had copious amounts of angst, bitterness, and heartbreak that I was not prepared for. However, I quickly learned to appreciate the story’s darkness. While there were moments of resentment and disappointment, there was also forgiveness and growth. While there were moments of pain and sorrow, there was also healing and hope. The wonderfully executed sexual tension didn’t hurt either.
Personally, I think the most valuable quality Waking Olivia had isn’t the romance itself but the presence of love in all its forms – romantic, familial and unconditional. In the story, Olivia didn’t just get a man who’s head over heels for her but she also gained a family that genuinely cared for her and served as her support system. Love, along with the many emotions that follow it, was explored so extensively and profoundly. It was very heartwarming.
Additionally, Olivia’s mental plight was handled tactfully and properly. I liked how her condition didn’t just suddenly, magically dissipate and that the author made no effort to provide an unrealistically instantaneous solution.
Writing style? O’Roark’s writing style was soulful and effective. To me, it suited the dark atmosphere and intricate complexity of the plot.
The problems (or at least, what I think are problems)?
 While I don’t necessarily mind cheating in books, I did mind that Will’s current girlfriend, Jessica, was characterized as a stereotypical, privileged bitch. Jessica was easily the least dimensional character in the book. But anyway. To me, it felt like her awful personality and disinterest towards Will’s passion (i.e. climbing and the farm) were used to justify Will’s unfaithfulness. Kind of like, “Oh, she’s an awful as hell girlfriend. Therefore, she deserves to be treated just as awfully.” That is definitely not the right message, people.
 Will’s aggressive behavior was problematic enough on its own, but the way he acted towards Olivia and because of Olivia was downright unhealthy. His concern for her well-being quickly and frequently escalated to being absurdly territorial. There were many instances wherein he tried to isolate her from other guys solely out of his own selfishness and insecurities. He even punched his younger brother because he saw him as a threat. Possessiveness does not equate to a healthy kind of love, okay!!! Neither is it an attractive quality in a partner.
 Will and Olivia’s relationship. Their communication fluctuated between poor and nearly nonexistent. Every time either of them had a problem, s/he resorted to immature and irrational courses of action such as ignoring one another, pretending the other did not exist, or in Will’s case, taking the anger out on everyone in the vicinity.
 Can we please stop promoting – and even more so, romanticizing – the idea that we need someone to ‘save’ us from ourselves? Jesus.
Don’t get me wrong. I greatly enjoyed this book, and I quickly became a fan of this author’s writing. However, I do not, in any way, support the messages and principles encouraged in Waking Olivia.
Excerpt from the book:
I swallow. “No.” My throat feels like it’s closing in. “But I’m not a part of your family and that was pretty much the end of the cross-country season, so I guess our work together is done.” Just saying the words aloud makes me feel adrift in my own grief. I won’t be seeing Dorothy again, or the farm or the horses. It’s over.
“Olivia, my mother seems to think you’re the daughter she never had. So like it or not, you are part of a family. Believe me, I’d have chosen someone a little more even-tempered and less quick to lie or throw a punch, but sometimes you don’t get a choice. We want you all there, all of us. You filled a hole we didn’t even know we had and now you’re gone and it’s all any of us can see.”