Thursday, July 31, 2014

Review: Love and Other Perishable Items by Laura Buzo

Title: Love and Other Perishable Items
Author: Laura Buzo
Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers
Publication date: December 11, 2012
Rating: ★★★★

Summary (via Goodreads):

From the moment Amelia sets eyes on Chris, she is a goner. Lost. Sunk. Head over heels infatuated with him. It's problematic, since Chris, 21, is a sophisticated university student, while Amelia, 15, is 15.

Amelia isn't stupid. She knows it's not gonna happen. So she plays it cool around Chris – at least, as cool as she can. Working checkout together at the local supermarket, they strike up a friendship: swapping life stories, bantering about everything from classic books to B movies, and cataloging the many injustices of growing up. As time goes on, Amelia's crush doesn't seem so one-sided anymore. But if Chris likes her back, what then? Can two people in such different places in life really be together?

Ever since I finished reading Love and Other Perishable Items, I've been wavering on how I feel about it. On one hand, I love it a lot. It brings to mind favorites like The Piper's Son by Melina Marchetta and, to some extent, Megan McCafferty's Jessica Darling books. On the other hand, it still feels lacking, somehow. Or maybe it's just me who is left feeling empty.

The book is split between two perspectives. Part of the story is told through Amelia, who is young and hopeful and naive. The other part is revealed through pages from Chris' journal, filled with gritty truths, some dark humor, and the reality of a life not filtered through a rose-colored lens.

I could have provided strawberries, poetry and orgasms, but James, on the other hand, will provide a house in Vaucluse and a six-figure salary.

In this coming-of-age story, Amelia and Chris are ordinary people who are remarkably likable. Amelia is stuck in a bumbling stage of adolescence – she is socially awkward, giddy, childlike at times, but simultaneously struggling with very complex issues, including family dynamics, gender roles, and disappointing literature. Chris, in contrast, is legally an adult and participates in his fair share of adult activities, including alcohol consumption, drugs, and lots of sex. He's melodramatic, self-deprecating yet sanctimonious, hopelessly romantic. He lives in quiet desperation.

When I read back over what I'd written, I seriously thought about ripping out all the pages. It was a pretty poor showing all the way through, but when I got to the bit where I was writing out the lyrics from the Dire Straits "Romeo and Juliet" song, I had to rip that out.

But then, I really want to be more honest in this diary than I have been in past ones, so everything else stays in. It's bad enough that I present such a heavily edited version of myself to my friends and family; if I start editing my diary, it will reinforce my already overwhelming tendency to be gutless. But let us never speak of it.

For the record, she really did cry when we made love and said she loved me like the stars above and would love me until she died. But, you know, people say shit in the moment.

Chris and Amelia's relationship is fascinating to watch unfold. They are both caught in an in-between stage and seem to find kindred spirits in each other. What's hilariously frustrating and brilliant is that you actually kind of want it to work out between the two of them. Never mind that they're each in completely different places in life, with different wants and needs. Never mind that it's totally illegal and more than slightly sketchy on paper. They make each other happier and better, and they talk about things that matter, and you just want them together, for Pete's sake!

And yet... it's one of those universal relationship things, isn't it? Bad timing. You can't force something to happen through sheer willpower. The reality of life takes its course, and sometimes it's disappointing and sometimes it feels tragic.

5. Get together with Amelia. Accompany her to her tenth-grade formal. Fruitlessly try to convince her family that I am a perfectly decent chap. Ignore raised eyebrows from family and friends. Content myself with holding hands and kissing. Accompany Amelia on the upcoming round of her friends' sweet sixteen parties. Attempt to smuggle her into bars for my friends' birthday parties.

Unfortunately, for a coming-of-age story, Amelia never really changes in a significant way. She remains naive and idealistic – a true youngster – which is fine, except that she doesn't ever seem to learn anything. She remains enamored with Chris, and her relationship with her family doesn't evolve but for a small degree of increased understanding and disillusionment. In many ways, this book feels more like Chris' story than Amelia's.

All the same, at the end of the day, Love and Other Perishable Items remains a fascinating story. It scrutinizes contemporary feminism. It explores the failures of human nature as we eavesdrop on Chris and Amelia's conversations about fictional characters. It questions what growing up really looks like.

We learn that there's never a single line that we have to step across to enter adulthood. Sometimes we are shaped by unexpected revelations, disappointments, realizations that things aren't always black and white. Other times it's the choices we make that propel us into a new stage of living. Love and Other Perishable Items is innocent and gritty all at once. It never feels flowery or fluffy or unrealistic. It's the quiet but powerful story of imperfect characters who are just trying to find their way in the world. It's a story that lingers.

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