Good Oil by Laura Buzo
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
It is always pleasant when you approach a book with certain expectations and then, after reading it, you realize these expectations were widely exceeded.
That's exactly what happened to me with Good Oil. I knew the book is Australian (always a good sign), that it is YA and I thought it would all be about fluff - this theory supported also by the cover that reminded me of a billboard for a Kate Hudson movie. Doesn't the girl there remind you of her?
I also suspected that this would be a coming-of-age story because, let's face it, isn't YA lit almost all about coming-of-age?
And Bildungsroman it was, although, and this pleasantly surprised me, it was the coming of age of TWO characters, a teen and a not-so-teen anymore.
Of course I am talking about Chris and Amelia.
Amelia is a just turned 15 y.o girl. She is part of a pretty shitty family, of which she seems to be the more mature member. Mature, not experienced. In fact, while on the one hand she is well ahead of her age in her interests and ruminations, she is hopelessly inexperienced and naive on the social skills front.
Chris is 22. He is in that phase of his life which he defines purgatory. He's on the verge between the lingering end of his teen - a jolly good time with no responsibilities - and manhood, time to take action, move out, do something with his life, GROW UP. At the same time though, he doesn't seem to be able to. He studies Arts at Uni, works in a supermarket and spends his time and money drinking a lot, chasing the mirage of a perfect girl and pitying himself.
When Amelia decides to get an after school job at a supermarket and meets Chris, her life - and her hormones - get shaken up well and turned upside down. While Amelia hopelessly falls in love with Chris who can't help but see her as a youngster, these two develop a friendship from which they will both benefit and that will spur them to take their lives in their own hands: Chris by being decisive and Amelia by overcoming her awkwardness in socializing.
The story is told in alternating POVs a bit à la Cath Crowley. Both characters recounts the same events, Amelia through simple narration, Chris by writing in his diary. So while, on the one hand, we have Amelia's teen point of view and her struggle through the pains of first love, angst and adolescence, Chris' side is definitely more suitable to the adult side of the young adults category, there being sex, lots of drinking and a fair amount of drugs.
I loved Chris. His personality is explosive, charming, full of life. His voice in the book is so much more vibrant than Amelia's you wonder whose coming-of-age is more fundamental in the book.
He is such a dork. I wanted to stab myself when I read the poem he wrote to a girl, I am so thankful I never received something like that in my life.
Chris, to me, is basically what Tom MacKee should have been but never managed to. I related to him on so many levels, cheered for him, laughed at his jokes and nodded my head at both the way he eventually manages Amelia at the end and at the choice he makes.
The story is well written, realistic, and I loved the way it ended, I wouldn't have had it any other way. First love, unrequited love, family dynamics, friendship, you have it all, with a generous sprinkle of Australian slang . I strongly recommend this book, it is certainly representative of that stunning phenomenon which we have come to observe lately in YA literature that is the Australian movement. (ok, this one I made it up, but doesn't it sound nice?)
On a side note, checking out the Australian Slang Site that Arlene mentioned in her nice review, I finally found out that UGG - as in Ugg boots - means ugly and they were boots worn by surfers in the 60s to keep their feet warm while out of the water. Now everything makes much more sense in my life. Thank you Arlene.
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