Reviewed by Sara Hodon
Love and Other Perishable Items
by Laura Buzo
Knopf Books for Young Readers
Hardcover: 256 pages, ISBN-13: 978-0375870002, December 11, 2012
Who doesn’t remember their first crush? (Well, perhaps at the time it was a little more intense than a crush). Or their first big heartbreak? Perhaps it was with the same person? No matter how it turned out, we all have a special place in our hearts for the first one who made it beat just a little bit faster. This is the situation young Amelia is grappling with in Laura Buzo’s debut YA novel, Love and Other Perishable Items.
Although the book is categorized under YA, adult readers can certainly relate to the plot. It certainly took me back to my first on-the-job crush. Amelia is a 15-year-old student, a bit bored with her life in that typical teenage “I can’t wait to grow up and something really happens to me” sense. She doesn’t feel that she can relate to her high school peers, she hates her after-school job at Coles supermarket, her home life is a bit tense and depressing – her father is a director and travels quite a bit, leaving her overworked teacher mother to care for the house and her younger sister Jessica- and in many ways she feels that she is just marking time, going through the motions until something – or someone – recognizes her potential and plucks her from obscurity.
Enter Chris, Amelia’s co-worker and object of her affections. Chris has it all–he’s 21, attending university, and cool in every possible sense. He has a knack for making the monotonous work at Coles much more bearable (he refers to the store as the “Land of Broken Dreams”), and, likely best of all for Amelia, when they talk, he actually listens and seems genuinely interested in what she has to say. But it seems pretty clear that although Chris might appreciate Amelia in a “smart kid sister” kind of way, he certainly isn’t planning a future with her. Case in point — he refers to her as “Youngster” more often than he uses her actual name, a telltale sign that a grand romance is not likely to develop. But there is clearly some sort of mutual admiration between the two of them, which makes Amelias yearnings even more true-to-life–on some level all parties (Chris, Amelia, and the reader)–know this relationship will never blossom into a full-blown romance, but who doesn’t appreciate a surprise happy ending now and then?
For all of her maturity and depth, Amelia is a fairly straightforward character–she’s essentially a teenager muddling through the ups and downs of adolescence. Multi-faceted with varying moods, sure. But she is basically the same girl at home, work, or school. It’s Chris Buzo spends the most time developing. While Amelia narrates most of the book, Chris takes over in places. Additionally, Buzo includes passages of Chris’ diary, which gives readers a glimpse of what this male Crush Object is truly like. Is there anything surprising on those pages? Not really. He’s certainly no angel, but no worse than any other 21-year-old male who is trying to navigate his way through early adulthood. The best thing about Chris is that he’s had many of the same thoughts, feelings, and experiences as Amelia, which is probably why she feels such a kinship toward him. He’s been there. He gets it.
Buzo doesn’t offer a short and sweet, neatly packaged ending, but as the reader learns more about these characters, that type of conclusion wouldn’t fit their situation. Amelia also gains some valuable insight into her family life along the way, as well, and realizes that perhaps things aren’t quite as grim as she’d thought.
This book ends much like life — Chris chooses his path, while Amelia must continue hers. Bittersweet, sure, but it’s also heartening to remember that adolescence is just a phase we all must go through–luckily we know that bigger and better opportunities are waiting for Amelia down the road. That’s perhaps the best message younger readers will get from this book — hang in there. Better days are coming.
About the reviewer: Sara Hodon’s work has appeared in History, Young Money, WritersWeekly.com, and The Valley: Lebanon Valley College’s Magazine, among others. She is also the Date and Relate columnist for Online Dating Magazine (www.onlinedatingmagazine.com). Read more about her trials and triumphs in the writing life on her blog, http://adventuresinthewritinglife.blogspot.com