by Laura Buzo
Published by Knopf BFYR
on December 11, 2012
Originally published in Australia as Good Oil (Allen and Unwin, 2010)
My summary: Fifteen year old Amelia takes an after school job in a local supermarket and immediately falls hard for Chris, a twenty-one-year-old university student. Chris, in turn, is obsessed with their co-worker Kathy, but only because he can't have Michaela, the girl of his dreams. Chris is training Amelia at work, and soon the two of them are sharing their opinions on books, their families, and their views on life. Can this supermarket flirtation go the distance, or does it come with a built-in expiration date?
My take: Love and Other Perishable Items is one of those books in which nothing much seems to happen -- two major characters and not much plot. But by the time I'd finished reading, I realized there's a whole lot going on underneath the surface of the story. The writing is the kind of lovely prose that calls no attention to itself but is, upon closer inspection, really accomplished.
The plot of Love and Other Perishable Items centers around unrequited love. Amelia has a desperate crush on Chris. He seems to be pursuing their co-worker Kathy, but is actually pining for Michaela, who, after a brief relationship with him, has gone back to an ex-boyfriend.
Amelia and Chris ... where do I begin? She's young adult, he's new adult -- two characters at very different stages in life. She's just beginning to explore the idea of romantic love, he's had his heart broken. She's taking her first tentative steps toward independence, he's discovering that independence isn't always what's its cracked up to be.
I adored Amelia. She's totally out of place in high school, a kid who's actually interested in discussing the assigned reading. She's smart and observant beyond her years, which also makes her socially awkward.
Go easy on the fifteen year old boys, Youngster. They're doing the best they can.At first, Chris comes off as mainly interested in drinking and women. But once the narrative begins to include his point of view through his journals, it becomes apparent that Chris is a romantic. He's a college student with vague dreams of independence but no idea how to achieve them. He feels that he had some sort of deep emotional connection with Michaela and is trying to achieve that with someone else, to no avail.
Chris and Amelia are separated by a six-year age difference. Later in life, this six year age gap might be insignificant, but at the time of this story it's an unsurmountable -- if not illegal -- chasm. But you feel the connection between these two. Both of them live way too much in their heads, both of them are pining for an epic sort of love that may or may not exist in real life. As Chris trains Amelia as a supermarket employee, the two of them debate two classic novels dealing with hopeless, unrequited love: The Great Gatsby and Great Expectations.
I hate that Pip still believes that Estella secretly loves him and that she'll come around one day. She won't.I loved the fact that Amelia is studying love the way you'd study math or chemistry. She analyzes the relationships in books and she analyzes the relationships she sees in real life: Chris and Kathy, her parents, her friend Penny. But then she learns that academic ideas can often fail in the real world. She goes to a party with her older co-workers and feels completely out of place, especially as she has to watch Chris watch Kathy go off into a room with some other guy. These kind of scenes were excruciatingly perfect.
Though most of the book was that subtle and well-crafted, there were places I could hear the clanking of moving parts. Namely, the very didactic discussions of feminism. Don't get me wrong --I love a book that takes a nuanced yet pointed look at gender roles in society. But the discussion of feminism in Love and Other Perishable items was all telling and no showing.
In a letter, Amelia tells Chris she is angry that her dad travels so much for work, worried that her mom seems so unhappy, annoyed that her father asks her to clean up his lunch dishes. Then she suddenly connects her dad's insistence that she do chores to some wider pattern of gender oppression. Chris writes back, launching into a capital-L Lecture about waves of feminist theory, segueing into an argument that white middle-class women aren't really oppressed like single mothers in housing projects and ... what?? To me, this part of the book felt much too heavy-handed.
Still, I thought Chris and Amelia were two of the most complex and fascinating characters I've found in YA this year. Does Amelia's anger at her absent father mean that she's a girl with Daddy issues and explain her attraction to a much older guy? Or is she attracted to Chris just because he's safe, a guy she can practice her flirting on without worrying about him actually making a move on her? And does Chris, with his pining for Michaela and fleeting attraction to Amelia, also seem to have a pattern for wanting unavailable girls? Might these two end up together ten years down the line? I loved the ending. It was perfect!
While Love and Other Perishable Items wasn't my very very favorite literary YA novel of the year -- I'd give that honor to either Graffiti Moon by Cath Crowley or Small Damages by Beth Kephart -- it's definitely worth reading if you enjoy books that are complex and thought-provoking.
I was confused when I saw this passage from the Australian version of the book quoted on Goodreads.
"I am Chris, your friendly staff trainer. You’ll be with me for three hour shifts. I will call you grasshopper and you will call me sensei. And I will give you the good oil."
I didn't remember that quote. Then I found that in my American copy, the passage (on page 7) had been translated to this:
"I am Chris, your friendly staff trainer. You'll be with me for three hour shifts. I will call you grasshopper and you will call me sensei. And I will share with you what I know."
I thought we learned from Harry Potter that Americans want the authentic slang. But nice job on the American cover. The Australian cover (below) is just all kinds of wrong for this kind of story.
Ugh! Why do they feel the need to "translate" British English and Australian English books? I wonder if they translate American English books for them? So Annoying!ReplyDelete
I'm glad you liked it, it sounds like something I would like but it's gotten some mixed reviews. Hopefully it's something I an get to next year.
I was insulted. I mean, I can understand that "good oil" does not mean the extra virgin kind on the supermarket shelf. And if I'm confused, I can Google.Delete
Now I'm wondering what else was changed...
Oh that cover is awful! I'm so glad it was changed and I do like the American title more than "Good Oil" but that's because I like titles on the long side. So glad we agreed about this book although I had a stronger liking for the feminism sections because how often does that pop up in a novel?ReplyDelete
True. I just wish the subject had been woven in there with a little more finesse. I felt like I was being lectured to and the topic just seemed plunked in there and not integrated into the story.Delete
It sounds good. I really want to read it more than ever now. sometimes what other people don't like or enjoy is what I like, I'm weird that way LOL.ReplyDelete
BUT I have to say that the feminism part may be turn me off, first because I don't agree with it and second because of what you said, much telling and not showing, not integrated to the story. I just read a book when something similar happen and I wanted to pull my hair out, it was frustrating!! Not going anywhere and just shoving down my throat the subject. But maybe I can get past it :)
"sometimes what other people don't like or enjoy is what I like, I'm weird that way LOL."Delete
That's why I always like to try books out myself!
Okay, so overlook the feminist themes and I'll be okay? Sounds cute...I was intrigued by the age difference, but it sounds like it isn't a major factor in the novel, except as a barrier to anything but friendship. I can handle that.ReplyDelete
Also, yeah, quit changing the slang! I love trying to incorporate that stuff into everyday conversation just for the weird looks I get. :P
I have NO problem with feminist themes at all. If they had seemed like an integral part of the story, I would have been very happy to see them there.Delete
The slang thing :(
I was wondering about the good oil thing!ReplyDelete
I enjoyed them as characters too.
Brandi from Blkosiner’s Book Blog
Happy to help out! Thanks for stopping by!Delete
6 years does seem like a massive age gap at that sort of age, my mother went nuts over a 3 year age gap when I was 18 so she would definitely have disapproved of 6 years! Find the idea of 'good oil' really weird!ReplyDelete
At that age 6 years is HUGE. And they both know that, which is what makes the whole thing work IMO.Delete
Yeah, while I love the slang, I think the American title fits better, because poor Chris is more mixed up than Amelia. He doesn't really offer her that much good oil....
I've heard fantastic things about this book... well the Australian version? I don't know. There's probably not too big of a difference except for the slang which you mentioned.I'm actually really looking forward to this book, it sounds like something I'll love!ReplyDelete
Hoping that's all they changed. Otherwise I will need to start ordering my books directly from Australia!!Delete
Great review!! It definitely sounds like an interesting story with the unrequited love and the crazy age difference.ReplyDelete
I also hate it when they change language in books. Do they think we're incapable of processing phrases from other cultures?? That's why I had to buy the British Harry Potter books! :D
So this book takes place in Australia? I agree to liking authentic language when that is the setting. But I don't get the "good oil" comment, so there's that too. This is a really great, thorough review. I like stories with good writing where there is a lot going on under the surface, and you have to pay attention. I think I'd probably be bothered with the same sections though. But overall this sounds really great.ReplyDelete
Yes, in NSW. Should have mentioned that!!Delete
I have this review up today too and our thoughts couldn't be more different. If I hadn't been so bored with it I may have seen the underlying story like you, but I was just struggling to get through it. I'm glad that you liked it. I was so sad that I didn't since I had been looking forward to it.ReplyDelete
Admittedly there is not a lot of plot there. Once I adjusted to the fact that it was that kind of book, I did enjoy it.Delete
Sweet I am reading and reviewing for a Valentine's Day giveaway on my blog..and you have me excited to read it!ReplyDelete
Hope you love it!Delete
YES.... To all of it. I just finished reading this a couple of days ago. You know I have been looking forward to it for a while now. I REALLY enjoyed getting to know both Amelia and Chris. It was HARD reading many of Amelia's parts. That age can be such a painful one, you know? I cringed at so many of her thoughts and actions. But I think that once she gets past those growing pains that all teen girls go through, she is definitely going to be a "keeper," unlike most of the other girls featured in the story.ReplyDelete
And Chris. Gosh, what a screwed up, yet romantic, young guy. I didn't know that we were going to get his POV before I started reading and I am so happy that Buzo included it! It really gave his character a depth that would have been absent had it just been Amelia's narration.
I thought the veering off into the feminist theory was a bit off, but I have to say that the fact it's included in a YA book does make me all kinds of happy. If it causes some YA girls (and guys) to lift their eyebrows a bit and want to learn more, that would ROCK:)
I also thought the ending was perfect, and I am so glad that Buzo chose to end it that way rather than prettying it up for some readers. I know it's not in the works, but a companion novel with Amelia and Chris, say four years down the road, would be all kinds of AWESOME...
And YES, to the switching of the "good oil" statement! That is such a great "Chris" line, shame it was changed for the American publication!
I agree that more feminist YA characters would be great. But I wish it was less lecture-y and more in response to real-life issues.Delete
Okay, most random comment ever, but now i want to reread the Great Gatsby and Great Expectations. Especially GE, because i haven't read it in years. Also... I totally want to read this book.ReplyDelete
For that reason alone, you will LOVE this book. The discussions of GE and GG were fantastic!Delete
I really hadn't had this book on my radar before but I am definitely intrigued now. I really don't like when slang is translated in US editions either. :/ We are smart enough to figure it out and have it authentic. Great review Jen!ReplyDelete
We have Google! We can do it!Delete
I am curious about this one! It seems to be a hit or miss since I have heard from many reviewers that it doesn't have much plot and not much happens. It is more about the inner workings of Amelia and Chris who do sound like fascinating characters. I am wondering about the ending since you enjoyed it. Is it open to them maybe getting together later in life? It sounds a bit heartbreaking as well. It so sucked trying to figure out life and love at 15! It still sucks at 27!ReplyDelete
It is not the kind of HEA love story that you are very fond of. So don't go into it expecting that. It's more "slice of life."Delete
This does sound like a very good book- aside from the feminism debate. My husband is 7 years older than I am, but I met him when I was 23, so the age difference doesn't seem that wide (we too met while working in a grocery store- I was bookkeeping and he was a manager), but it's weird when I think how he was graduating high school while I was still in grade school.ReplyDelete
I'm curious enough to give this book a try- thanks for the review, Jen!
LOVE that you guys met in a grocery store. You should definitely try this!Delete
Yeah, funny how age differences don't really matter once you're in your twenties, but a 15 year old with a 21 year old is just not usually going to work. I was also imagining how people might have reacted to this book if she was 21 and he was 15. Then the feminist theory might have made more sense!
This sounds really good. I'm very interested to see how things play out for the characters at the en of the novel. Thanks for reviewing. I probably would have passed right over this one without knowing what I was missing!ReplyDelete
Jesse @ Pretty In Fiction
I LOVED how it played out. I was really happy with the ending.Delete
I'm Australian & while I do know what is meant by 'the good oil' it's rather obscure. I doubt I've ever heard anyone use it.ReplyDelete
Interesting! Thanks for weighing in. I've lived in Australia and I had never heard that expresssion either. I like the new title and cover and I hope that no other slang got changed.Delete
Oooh this one sounds complicated and a little messy. I'm not sure how I would feel about it. I might give it a try anyway.ReplyDelete