Tuesday, June 14, 2011

REVIEW: Good Oil by Laura Buzo

Good Oil (AU)
Love and Other Perishable Items (U.S.)
by Laura Buzo
Released: August 2010 (Australia)
283 pages
Allen & Unwin
Source: Go Aussie Book Tours

A wonderful, coming-of-age love story from a fresh new voice in YA fiction.
"Miss Amelia Hayes, welcome to The Land of Dreams. I am the staff trainer. I will call you grasshopper and you will call me sensei and I will give you the good oil. Right? And just so you know, I'm open to all kinds of bribery."

From the moment 15-year-old Amelia begins work on the checkout at Woolworths she is sunk, gone, lost...head-over-heels in love with Chris. Chris is the funny, charming, man-about-Woolies, but he's 21, and the 6-year difference in their ages may as well be 100. Chris and Amelia talk about everything from Second Wave Feminism to Great Expectations and Alien but will he ever look at her in the way she wants him to? And if he does, will it be everything she hopes?

REVIEW: Laura Buzo has crafted a lovely, honest picture of growing older and getting wiser.  I don't know how these Aussie authors are doing it, but they are absolutely nailing authentic characterization and natural dialogue of contemporary characters.  It's a sound that translates universally, but I've yet to see it crossover into the YA I've picked up lately on the domestic front (recent exception: Other Words For Love by Lorraine Zago Rosenthal).  Here's the beauty of it (and Buzo particularly shines here): they are showing a WHOLE person, not just a person who has a conflict here or there.  They are showing their characters in the actual rhythm and detail of their everyday lives.  Buzo gives us 'every' Amelia - the family her, school her, work her, angry her, silent hoping her, defeated hoping her, we get the WHOLE Amelia, and I love how seamlessly they are wrapped together to really form a believable cloth that is this wonderful character.

I distinctly remember squealing with delight over what a great character Amelia was developing into while reading Good Oil. I tweeted Missie from the Unread Reader letting her know how much I really, really loved Amelia.  It's always odd to look at a former picture of yourself when from high school, and that's what Amelia was for me: a somewhat awkward teen, way too serious to be cool, nothing gets by her, but has trouble fitting in some of the time, whether it's because of others judging her, or her judging others.  You kind of lose some of that as you get older, so it's nice to be slapped with a reminder every now and again of how you were. And Amelia, between you and me, I promise - things get better with time and age.  Trust me on this.

And then there's Chris.  Meh.

Don't get me wrong - Chris is an entirely believable, extremely well-written character, as well.  He's a whole person, too; he's just not my type of person, at least not in his current stage in life.  That being said, I would have been head-over-heels in love with him, just like Amelia.  At 15.  Not so much today.  Color me a hypocrite, but hear me out. . .   Chris is a charming, intelligent and lovable guy.  He'd be a great character on Gilmore Girls.  He's at a crossroads in his life, with one road called 'Daddy Issues', another called ' Heartbreak Hangover', a third called, 'Deadend Job' and a fourth called 'School Debt'.

Blows, Chris, I know.  I'm there with ya, buddy.

Now, these four roads lead to a center of town I'm going to affectionately call 'Sack Up Square'.  I know we all are there at one point in our lives.  Hell, I think I've sublet there more than once.  That being said, I have very little patience with myself when I get there because my essential, bare bones opinion is that one needs to get moving or go nowhere.  This impatience with myself was transferred to Chris, who, in my opinion, needs to either clip on his big boy pair or commit to a lifetime of indecision and self-loathing.  As delightful as Amelia's road to self-discovery was, to me, Chris's felt a bit overdue.  I feel like he defined his life by who loved him rather than who and what he loved.  He defined his world as in terms of what was absent rather than what he wanted and working towards it.  What can I say?  I like my characters stoic, whether it's brazen or bashful, and Amelia has moxie in spades.  Chris does not.  However, for the type person he was, Buzo was spot on with writing him - he's a thoroughly believable guy who is facing major life decisions.  He's also an essentially good person, who also happens to make some muy shitey judgment calls - a decent male protagonist who comes off only slightly less important than Amelia.  His emphasis on dwelling on his current state of tedium rather than simply making decisions and getting on with his life just rackled me a bit.  He did get under my skin and make me laugh, though.

The lad has potential.  Maybe it's the sort of 'what if' that only a young girl truly can appreciate and have patience with.  Hence, Amelia's crush.  I get it.

I'd love to sit down with them both in about five years and see what happens.

Everything about this book is authentic.  It's wonderful and unexpected dual first-person narrations from Amelia and Chris make the book all the more interesting, and I particularly like that you got the sense of their different stages in life through it.  Reflecting on it, I am probably a bit too hard on Chris on some points.  Give Amelia seven years to get to Chris' stage in life, and who knows - she might sound rather similar.  Good Oil is a solid read and a fine example of how there is no pinnacle of maturity in life - simply stages and circles we walk through and around, learning what we can and growing as we move along.  Pick up and down some Good Oil - I'd love to see how it echos in your head.


  1. Brilliant review. I agree Buzo really captures authentic characters. And am hoping Buzo writes a sequel. I love to know what happened in Amelia & Chris' lives :)

  2. I wish I could get this book here in the states. I've heard such good things about it. Great review!

  3. LOVED this review Linds! You have such a phenomenal way of describing characters and your reactions to them, it makes me feel like I've already read the book and know these characters as well as you do. Since I so adore well-written characters, I think I need to give this one a try!

  4. @Nic Thanks! You guys are lucky over there - such a good vibe with Aussie YA lit. It just feels so real, you know?

    @Angie - I was very lucky to get on a tour for it - check out Go Aussie Book Tours with Missie @ The Unread Reader and Nic (who posted a comment above). Are you doing the Aussie reading challenge? HIGHLY recommend it!

    @Jenny Thanks to you, too! I really enjoyed writing this one. It's so much easier to write a proper review when it feels like you are evaluating truly 'whole' characters.


  5. You're right. The characterization is astounding. Amelia's moxie was not only identifiable, but also relatable.

    I think you are spot on with Chris too. I was often torn between feeling sorry for him, because he is good at getting you to do that for him, and between thinking, enough already.

    I'd love to see these two five years down the line, but I have a feeling we'd find Chris much the same and Amelia wondering what the heck she ever saw in him. Yanno?

  6. I had my eye on this one ever since you "Wow"ed it, Linds. I love strong characterizations where you see the entire person not just the person we are suppose to like but all the negative aspects to them as well. Amelia reminds me of myself too in high school and somewhat in college. I'm definitely curious about this book and I will keep my eye out for this one. Thanks for an awesome review!

  7. @Missie Dood, I kept thinking, "If I was his sister, I would totally slap him and tell him to GET IT TOGETHER!" And oh yeah, Anno. Oh, Amelia. . .

    @Rummanah Aasi Hecks yeah! I bet you would like it, too! Wonderful, full-bodied characters in this one.


  8. I can always count on your reviews to be thoughtful and honest, Linds! Fabulous as ever! Why does Aussieland always get the best books?! I want some Good Oil! :)

  9. Do you have a secret source for amazing Aussie books? How do you find these books? This one sounds amazing and you gave such a thorough review I feel like I know the characters already. And I want to kick Chris in the butt and tell him to get going!

    Really great review! Hope the vacation didn't get rained out.


  10. @Melissa - I know, I know - what's in the water over there??

    @Heather - No secret source :) I signed up for the Aussie Book Challenge (which I believe you can still sign up for), and then Nic and Missie set up the Go Aussie Book Tour, so that's how I got to read Good Oil. I highly recommend you trying to read some Aussie - you've read book by Melina Marchetta, right?

    Ohhh, and it rained for THREE DAYS! Didn't stop us, though!


  11. Oh, I loved this book.
    You're kind of right about Chris, and though he was hard to like sometimes, I did find him likable in the end.

    and I adored Amelia! I felt like hugging her so many times.

  12. Alex, I know exactly what you mean! Adored Amelia, but oh Chris, wanted to throttle him and hug him at the same time!


  13. AMAZING review!! AMAZING! Seriously! I want this book NOW!! Wow. I just... I just... Amazing! I can't think of anything else to say!

    Man, I love me some Aussie authors!