Love and Other Perishable Items. by Laura Buzo. December 11, 2012. Random House. 256 pages. ISBN: 9780375870002
Amelia is fifteen years old, and she works at a grocery store in Sydney, Australia. Her mother struggles to work, keep the house, and raise Amelia’s little sister, while her father travels for work and fails to pull his weight. Chris is twenty-one years old, and he too, works at the grocery store, which he calls The Land of Dreams. He’s had his heart broken, badly, and in his notebooks he now documents his quest for the perfect woman, as well as his dilemma over what to do with his life after college graduation. Amelia is deliriously in love with Chris. Chris wishes Amelia were older. Can there be any hope for romance between them?
This book is one of the best contemporary YA novels I have ever read. Typically, in stories where the point of view alternates between two or more characters, there is one point of view that I prefer over the other. In this case, both main characters are so compelling, it’s impossible to choose a favorite. I related so closely to Amelia, whose longing for Chris’s affections mirrors the unrequited love of fifteen-year-old girls everywhere. Many times I wanted to shake her and tell her that there is no way someone six years her senior would fall in love with her, but at other times, I wanted it as much as she did. On the flip side, I could understand completely Chris’s desire to be out on his own, to find a woman who will love him, and to stop hanging around a grocery store filled with high school kids. Amelia and Chris represent two ends of an adolescent spectrum, both of which are part of this “young adult” category. I thought it was such a good idea to bring them together in one story, which will appeal to a wide audience, but whose meaning will change depending on the age and experience of the individual reader. If I’d read this book at fifteen, I would have loved Amelia and misunderstood Chris. If I’d read it at 20, Chris would have been the character I loved most, and I would have dismissed Amelia as annoying and immature. Reading it now, at 30, after having lived through both high school and college, my view of the story is more balanced.
Aside from the strong voices, what impressed me the most about this book was the structure. Amelia’s chapters relate events in her life one month at a time. Then we get to look at Chris’s notebook, where he relates some of the same events, and additional ones that matter to him but not to Amelia. While Amelia’s sections feel like confessions directly to the reader, reading Chris’s chapters made me feel like I was eavesdropping, getting the full story without his knowledge. Knowing in every scene that I would eventually get the other character’s side of the story kept me in almost constant suspense, and I loved the way Chris’s chapters often changed my perspective on what happened in Amelia’s chapters, or vice versa. I also thought it was great that Chris had so much more going on his life that Amelia didn’t know about, but that her crush was still so vital to her day-to-day existence.
The Australian setting was also a treat for me. It was neat to experience Christmas as a summertime holiday, for example. I also appreciated that the US edition of the book wasn’t too Americanized, though I know some changes were made, even to the title. (The Australian title is Good Oil.) I was also thrilled by the grocery store setting. I have been trying for years to write a decent story set in a grocery store, but have never been able to get the details right. Thankfully, Laura Buzo nails it.
This is a great YA novel with lots of emotional depth and detail that rings true for the high school experience and the end-of-college experience. There is some language, drug use, and drinking, but nothing too graphic. I’m pretty sensitive about stuff like that, and the only thing that gave me pause was Chris’s cocaine use, mostly because it seemed to come out of nowhere. Literary allusions and discussions of feminism and philosophy abound in Amelia’s interactions with Chris. I bookmarked many references so I could find out more about them later on. Amelia is fifteen, but I hope that doesn’t put off older teen readers, as this is a sophisticated story that deals with many important coming of age issues, from dating and love to family and careers. I truly can’t recommend this book highly enough, and I hope my readers will share it widely with teens they know and love.
I received a digital ARC of Love and Other Perishable Items from Random House via NetGalley.
For more about this book, visit Goodreads and Worldcat.