Book Review: Pieces of Olivia by Melissa West

Charleston Haven, #1
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…

As soon as I finished reading Pieces of Olivia, I realized...I'm sitting here, weeping in bed, at 4 in the morning. Oh boy. In fact, I was crying for pretty much the last 10% of the book. But let me tell you how I got to that point and why it's actually a good thing...

I'm not afraid to say that the gorgeous cover captured my attention first...So pretty...However, the words beneath the cover were what reeled me in. I was caught in the emotions they expressed and the journey that they promised.
I needed a change. And not just a change in geography. I needed a complete change--different town, different people, different me.
We begin with Olivia Warren's first day of college, moving into a dorm and meeting new people...Olivia is getting a fresh start. But, right away, I could tell that it was more than just starting a new chapter for was running away from the previous one.
I had my past staring over my shoulder, watching me like a ghost that refused to let go of its home.
My curiosity is always piqued with these kinds of stories, when there's a tragic past that still haunts the main character, and in the beginning, how the reader only gets hints of what happened. Yes, I like that bit of mystery. The anticipation leading up to the reveal. More importantly, though, I look forward to seeing how the character overcomes their fear of facing the past, the struggle of finally bringing down their walls. I want to feel their doubt. Their trepidation. Then, I want to feel their relief, to feel their hope when they finally make sense of all the ups and downs of the rollercoaster. By the end, Pieces of Olivia gave me all of that.

At first, we know that Olivia has lost her best friend, Trisha, but the exact details of how and the extent of the fallout are yet to be explained. She writes these gut-wrenching letters to Trisha throughout the book. I felt Olivia's fear of forgetting her best friend, of leaving Trisha behind in the past while she gets to live on and be happy...because it mirrored the guilt of leaving her behind on the night she died. I really felt that ache in my chest and the lump in my throat every time she remembered more of what happened.
My lip trembled. "Sometimes I play it all out in my head just to see if it ends any differently."
But that's the can't move on if you carry pieces of the past too close and let them anchor you to your pain and suffering. Ultimately, Olivia has to free herself, even if her chains are right there on her skin, scars that won't let her forget easily. I so admired this battle of emotions and the message that it carried.

I loved the progression of Olivia's healing process, the steps she had to take in order to get better, healthier. It wasn't easy or instantaneous. It was slow, but built steadily. Piece by piece. From her eccentric therapist to her roommate Kara, even one of her professors, there were people that made Olivia take a good look at herself.
Kara stood up and walked over to me, turning me around so I was facing the mirror. "This is what you look like. Just so you know." 
I stared at my wrecked face, saw the doubt and sadness in my eyes. I thought I hid it better.
I also liked the progression in Olivia and Preston's relationship. The playfulness when they first meet, the "bumping into each other everywhere" thing! Then, there was the buildup of their chemistry (and a total giddy moment when I had to actual-squee and faceplant into my pillow). There was a very satisfying HAPPY GLOW phase, as well.
He tucked my hair behind my ear and moved still closer. "I can't promise anything. I have nothing in me to promise, but that doesn't mean I won't try....Let me be what you need."
I enjoyed how easy it was to fall into a groove with these two. More than anything, I loved what Preston meant to Olivia. How he made her comfortable, how they opened up to each other. There was a deep, intimate connection between them, not just the fun and sexy, but also the sweet and heartwarming.
Since this summer, I had separated myself into two people--Olivia, controlled and sure, and Olive, carefree and happy. I'd tucked Olive away, but the more time I spent with Preston, the more I felt her seeping out, peeking at me from a closed closet, begging me to let her be a part of myself again. 
I adored Olive. She was funny and witty. She found something to be happy about again. Preston was fun to be around, taking her on random fishing trips, and he was kind and sweet to Olivia, going against everything Olivia had heard of his I-don't-do-serious-relationships ways.

Ah, but everyone has a past, don't they? Parts of Preston's past come to light, as well. (Actual note from my Kindle: DON'T MIND ME. JUST MAKING IT RAIN RED FLAGS UP IN HERE.) It's that storm brewing from a distance, until it grows darker, until the rain is pouring and the thunder booming all at once. It's a raw blend of anger and grief. I saw it coming, but that didn't stop me from feeling gut-wrecked. *eep* I couldn't help it!

But this is also where the magic happens. The moments that follow are so important. The author can either leave you hanging, feeling semi-satisfied, or they can show you all of the reasons why the storm was worth it. And, for me, Melissa West did a fantastic job of making me understand these characters. Not just to feel every emotion with them, but to know why. So, yes, it was rough at times. But also, yes, I understood their actions/reactions.
"You're a little wrinkled right now, and I understand how heavy those wrinkles can feel.  How permanent they can feel...You just have to have a little faith." 
Sometimes, when a person is haunted by darkness long enough, they start to see it in everything, even if it isn't there. It's in the way they hesitate to trust others, the way they assume the worst before it happens, the way they withdraw. The easy choice is to retreat. The hardest thing to do is to have blind faith in the future. Olivia had to find the light again and move forward.
And like I mentioned before...Wow. I had a steady stream of tears for the last portion of this book. All of the progress that Olivia makes...and ONE thing sets her back. It all comes down to that moment of truth. She's down, and she has to choose if she's going to get back up or not.
"...we don't always have to walk through the tough stuff. Sometimes, if we're lucky, there are people willing to carry us." 
Towards the end, I did wonder if some of the things Preston said were a little too perfect and dreamy...but it didn't stop me from swooning! (And really...I'm not sure if that's even a genuine complaint ;)...) There was also one thing I hoped would be fleshed out a bit more...but then I remembered that book two is coming out later this year! It definitely got me anxious-excited for Miles From Kara!

Still...The ending felt like a heavy weight was finally lifted. It felt lighter, hopeful. Pieces of Olivia is a beautifully written, heartrending story about loss and healing. The next time someone mentions Pieces of Olivia, and every time after, I'm going to pause and remember...Yup, that was a beautiful one. Hug-this-book-snugly-to-my-chest-and-hold-on-to-all-the-feels kind of beautiful! I'll be keeping my eye on the Charleston Haven series!


Melissa West writes young adult and new adult novels for Entangled Teen and Embrace and Penguin/Intermix. She lives outside of Atlanta, GA with her husband and two daughters and spends most of her time writing, reading, or fueling her coffee addiction.

She holds a B.A. in Communication Studies and a M.S. in Graphic Communication, both from Clemson University. Yeah, her blood runs orange.
*** ARC provided by author in exchange for honest review ***