Thursday, December 13, 2012

review: love and other perishable items

Laura Buzo
Knopf Books for Young Readers
(ARC picked up at ALA)
Amelia's 15 and Chris is 21, but she still can't help falling entirely, head-over-heels for her coworker. Surrounded by vapid and/or otherwise-lacking coworkers, the two strike up a friendship that only feeds Amelia's feelings and makes Chris confused about his own. They get along, they talk about real things, but at the end of the day there's still a very vital six years between them. Set in Australia and told from the dual perspectives of Amelia and Chris, this is a love story... sort of.

It probably comes as a surprise to absolutely nobody to learn that I'm not a big fan of "edgy" content -- sex, drug use, and too much profanity can really ruin my reading experience. (And this is not meant to be a rah, no sex-drugs-cussing statement -- just that I don't and never have liked reading it.) And this book had much more of that than I was expecting. There were a few scenes in particular that, if I hadn't loved the characters and their story so much, would have made me put the book down. So I'm a little torn in how much I actually like this book; despite it's adorable cover, it's maybe not something I'd give to your more sensitive readers.

Having said that, this book surprised me. In so many ways. I was surprised at the content (in a bad way), I was surprised at the dual POV (in a good way), I was surprised at the depth and the sadness (also, in a good way). Laura Buzo has made a relationship that could easily, easily be totally skeevy something you end up rooting for. Part of this is the fact that Amelia and Chris are both great characters and despite their age difference they really do get along very well, and part of it, I think, is that Chris' feelings are much less defined than Amelia's. Even he doesn't know if his feelings for her are of a romantic/sexual nature or if it's simply friendship and the fact that she's so different from most of the people he finds himself spending time with. In a big way this book reminded me of an earlier YA novel, Just Like That, by Marsha Qualey. (I'd recommend that for fans of this book.)

Aside from Amelia and Chris' story together, they each have their own lives happening. Both of their families and friends, but especially Amelia's, are hugely present. Chris, at 21, is watching his friends graduate and get jobs that pay well while he's still living at home, stuck in a sort of ennui, unsure what to do with his life and feeling stuck in suspension. It's a very realistic, very relatable feeling and handled so well. Amelia, on the other hand, is just trying to make life easier for those around her, especially her over-worked mother, and contemplating the essential questions of life and love, like how unfair Gatsby-style impossible love is, and how it sucks that her mom has to work full time and take care of everything else in the house while her dad refuses to even load his dishes. As with Chris' situation and feelings, Amelia's contemplation and anger is handled in a really, really great way. Buzo has talent for creating realistic and interesting characters that stand out.

This is one of those books that, for me, was made of extremes. The parts I liked I absolutely loved, but the parts I didn't like hard to get over. Although in this case my issues are subjective and entirely taste-driven, so others may not have the same hang-ups. For those looking for a completely character-driven novel that tackles some unlikely subjects, this may be exactly what you're looking for. But fair warning: it's sadder than you think it'll be.

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