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Sunday, January 2, 2011

'Good Oil' by Laura BUZO

From the BLURB:

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?

Amelia is fifteen and has just started her first part-time job, at supermarket Woolworths (aka: ‘Woolies’, aka: ‘Land of Dreams’). Her trainee supervisor is twenty-one-year-old Chris. . . Much girlish crushing ensues. But if there’s one thing Amelia has learnt from a year of doom and gloom English texts (hello Sylvia Plath!) it’s that love stories rarely have happy endings. . .

‘Good Oil’ is Laura Buzo’s debut contemporary young adult novel. And it’s a doozy.

In all honesty, the storyline is bare and simple. A fifteen-year-old gets her first job and first crush on her unattainable University-aged co-worker. That’s the crux of the book. But I think the beauty is in Buzo’s simplicity.

For one thing, the storyline is a page out of everyone’s childhood, in one form or another. Everyone has been Amelia at some point in their life – crushing on the unattainable boy/girl and having to (slowly) accept the crushing blows of romantic defeat. But Buzo goes one better and also offers a few chapters from Chris’s perspective. . . and he turns out to be an equally relatable narrator.

Chris is a young adult who is desperately grasping at the ‘young’ and trying to avoid the ‘adult’. He is in his last year of university, and like most twenty-something’s, he is aimless and despondent of his situation;
I have decided to do Honours next year after all, because the idea of leaving uni in three months’ time and looking for a real job is quite frankly a little too much for me to contemplate in my (perpetually) delicate state.
Through Amelia we get to read the impossible impotence of being young. She’s at that odd age (fifteen) when you: can’t drink, can’t drive, go to school, go home, listen to your teachers, listen to your parents. . . Day in, day out. It seems endless. Buzo has distilled in Amelia everything that it means to be young and lonely. Her parents aren’t interested in her, her best friend is expanding her social circle (that doesn’t necessarily include Amelia) and nothing seems to fit. I get it. I lived it. . . we all did. And that’s what makes ‘Good Oil’ so darn good.

I especially loved Amelia because she has that same innocence I can remember in myself. She admits to having not talked to boys since primary school, and now finds her and her friends’ crushing a little odd. Buzo also precisely captures the High School jungle (though school is rarely a setting in the novel). Little things are perfectly pin-pointed and articulated, like that clique of ‘Beautiful People’ who act as school celebrities;
Luke Silburn, Monty Donachy and James Roberts. To name a few. The funny thing is – how is it possible that I know so many of their names? I have nothing to do with them. I've never even spoken to one. Yet somehow their names have seeped into the collective consciousness of the whole school. You hear whispers of their names along the corridors and across the school grounds at lunch. Information about which of them are dating what girls, who had a party last weekend, who was invited and who is casually mentioning that they went and did what to whom. I even know that Monty Donachy’s first name is short for ‘Montague’. Go figure.
I liked the contrast between Amelia and Chris’s narration, if only because I felt connected to both of them.

In Amelia I remembered. With Chris, I understood. Chris is roughly the same age as I am now, and has just completed his uni course (same as me). Now he finds himself battling the parental inquisition (“what kind of job are you going to get?”) and feeling suffocated in his childhood home. He is waiting for his life to start. . . but at the same time reluctant/scared to be his own catalyst. YES! I *get* him! I *am* him!

I also liked the juxtaposition of Amelia/Chris because, through them, Buzo reveals the unchanging obstacles of love. Amelia pines for Chris, unaware and unconcerned by their age difference. Chris pines for the girl who broke his heart, and is in the pursuit of ‘The Perfect Woman’. Both have unrealistic expectations and dead-end feelings. It’s a nice symbiosis that reveals how this funny little thing called love doesn’t change all that much as we get older. . . nor does it get any easier.

The book does feel unfinished, and if there is no sequel I will be miffed. I suppose that precipice feeling at the end is indicative of being young – Amelia about to turn sixteen and enter the last leg of her teenage years, and Chris off to lands unknown to figure out the next stretch of his adult life. . .

I feel the same way about ‘Good Oil’ as I did about the TV show ‘My So Called Life’. It wasn’t all fireworks and love triangles (that was reserved for ‘90210’ and later, ‘Dawson’s Creek’) – but by golly, that show told the truth! Buzo in ‘Good Oil’ does the same thing. I found the book to be quite depressing, mostly because it’s so fucking true. She captures and shines a (glaring, neon and fluorescent!) light on what it is to be young. To be young and lonely, young and incapable of change. I think this novel impacted so much because it hit so close to home. . . And ultimately, I did love ‘Good Oil’. It’s not all doom and gloom – Amelia and Chris, respectively, are very entertaining and witty narrators. They pepper their POV’s with pop-culture references (from ‘Platoon’ to ‘Kings of Leon’) and are often sharply self-aware and self-deprecating. I loved this book for the honesty of its protagonist’s.

Having said that. . . ** SPOILERS highlight to read** Please, tell me there is more! Tell me there’s going to be a sequel. . . It can’t end that way – it just can’t! Not with a drunken 3AM phone call from Japan saying he misses her! IT CAN’T END LIKE THAT! I NEED MORE!!! ** end SPOILERS **


P.S. - Big hearty thanks to Naomi of ‘inkcrush’ fame for putting me onto this little Aussie YA gem – I owe you one!


  1. Amazing review! I think this will be one of the first Aussie books I hit for 2011, if only for the rec's I keep hearing.

    I'm in love with the idea of this novel. Funny enough, I have NEVER seen this in any local bookstore.

  2. ok you had me at "My so called life" LOL, but I read the spoiler, me being the spoiler whore I am, and Im not getting even close tot his book until I hear of a sequel LOL

  3. Okay, this same storyline happened to ME last year! I totally need to read this!!

    Great review!

  4. LOVE LOVE LOVE this review!

    so thrilled you love it too. it is so easy to relate, hey? I especially loved Chris for that.

    I haven't stopped thinking about this book since I read it. I think it will be a long time fave :)

  5. Hey. I was wondering if you could answer a question for me. I just read this book and found your Q and A with the author, and the this post. Anyway, in the Q and A you describe Chris's perspective as "chillingly truthful" or something along those lines. I know this post is old, so this may be a long shot, but could you elaborate on that for me? The comments on the Q and A were disabled, so I figured I'd post this here.

    1. Hi.

      Ok. I guess by "chillingly truthful" I meant that she wrote how guys really think. Versus how women like to think males think.

      Example (and it's from TV, but stick with me) on 'The Mindy Project', protagonist Mindy comes up with this complicated possible reason for why her latest boyfriend has dumped her. One of her male friends overhears this theory and simply says: "Guys don't break up with girls they secretly want to be with." It's sort of the same thing as 'He's Just Not That Into You' - women can sometimes project a lot onto men, so it was nice to read a male perspective that was quite blunt and honest, even when it wasn't necessarily pretty and he knew he was being kind of a jerk. In Chris's case, he was quite self-aware of his little self-destructive ways, particularly where women and sex are concerned, but he just tells it straight down the line.


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