Love and Other Perishable Items
The first wretched pangs of teenage love are hard enough --- but what if the object of your affection was standing right in front of you, and yet completely unobtainable? Like, utterly, totally, out-of-the-question unobtainable? For 15-year-old Amelia, such struggles are the stuff of everyday life, especially when she works just a register away from the most desirable man on earth…or at least, the most desirable in her eyes.
"[Laura Buzo] cleverly draws parallels between the almost-love story unfolding between Amelia and Chris and the various assigned reading Amelia is encountering in school. As Amelia putters through her reading list, we’re left to wonder whether this story will end up being THE GREAT GATSBY or GREAT EXPECTATIONS. You’ll just have to read it to find out."
Amelia Hayes is your average 15-year-old suburbanite, almost. Aching from everyday teenage woes such as frizzy hair, childhood pudge and the fact that her parents will just NEVER understand, Amelia begins to experience a new sort of torture after beginning a part time job at the local grocery story --- love. At first, Amelia’s aching desire to fit in and her feeling of unmitigated social ineptitude make her grateful for the guidance of 21-year-old Chris. But as she learns more about him, she realizes that it is more than just appreciation she’s feeling. His interest in literature and willingness to take her ideas seriously opens an unexpected door for Amelia. With the confidence of someone experiencing their first big crush, Amelia declares herself in love.
Now, of course, the question becomes: How does a 15-year-old (and admittedly an uncool and inexperienced 15-year-old at that) set about to woo an educated, handsome and witty older man? Amelia’s pretty sure she doesn’t have a leg to stand on. But it turns out that Chris may be almost as confused as she is.
Author Laura Buzo switches between the narrators, relying more heavily on the expressive Amelia but including snippets from Chris’ rather tormented private notebooks. The reader learns that Chris is not as confident as Amelia believes --- in fact, he’s a rather aimless young man with bad luck in love and an unhealthy devotion to unreciprocated affection. His diary leaves the reader with no doubt that his angst is just as, well, angsty as Amelia’s. While Amelia rages against the bizarre assignments of her English teacher, Chris snoozes through unintelligible university classes. While Amelia is frustrated with her father for leaving her mother with so much responsibility, Chris is desperate to move out of his parents’ house. And while Amelia moons over her inaccessible beloved, Chris is on the hunt for the “Perfect Woman” --- a hunt that never seems to prove fruitful.
Surprisingly, Amelia seems more mature than Chris in many instances. Certainly, her coping mechanisms (unlike Chris’ over-consumption of alcohol and recreational drugs) are less self-destructive. Perhaps it is only because she has less access to dramatic modes of expression, but Chris’ self-pity and aimlessness, as well as his inability to view himself critically without collapsing into self-hatred, make Amelia seem quite mature by comparison. And when Chris starts including Amelia more and more in his self-reflections, the reader starts to wonder whether something is actually possible between them.
Throughout it all, Buzo makes a point of providing vivid depictions of the other characters that inhabit the world of the supermarket, accounts that can seem either loathing or idolizing (or both) depending on delivery. She also cleverly draws parallels between the almost-love story unfolding between Amelia and Chris and the various assigned reading Amelia is encountering in school. As Amelia putters through her reading list, we’re left to wonder whether this story will end up being THE GREAT GATSBY or GREAT EXPECTATIONS. You’ll just have to read it to find out.
Reviewed by Rebecca Kilberg on December 11, 2012