Friday, April 1, 2011

Good Oil, by Laura Buzo

First Published in 2010, by Allen & Unwin

“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?”

15-year-old Amelia gets her first job at Woolworths and promptly gets more than angry customers and plastic bags of fruit and veg – she also gets an all-consuming, undeniable crush on 21-year-old Chris. They talk, laugh, argue and become great friends – but the six year age gap means it will never be anything more.

What I Loved About this Book:

Much like my favourite Aussie YA of last year, Raw Blue, this is a quiet, unassuming story, quite day-to-day, devoid of big events or revelations. But it’s kind of like you can feel it crawl inside of you and curl up, and then there is a delicious warmth that slowly seeps out and lulls you further and further in and then you just never want to let that little bundle of book-love go. Good Oil is a creeper, because the emotional havoc it wreaks doesn’t feel like much when it’s happening but then there will be a moment where, Wham, you know it’s got you good.

I loved both Amelia and Chris, and using both their voices to tell the story added so much to the story. There were a few times when I thought maybe Chris’ voice slipped out of authenticity, but for the most part he was spot on and his frustration and humour and self-deprecation were completely engaging and very powerful. I’ve said it before, but I think the uni-age is an area overlooked in YA, and yet as far as material goes it is an absolute goldmine. And so I LOVED reading about his utter bewilderment at what the hell he was supposed to be doing with his life, and understanding it, and wanting him to figure it out and be happy.

I will say this is more Amelia’s story than Chris’, and she was an absolute lovely protagonist: so tough and spirited and yet completely vulnerable and unsure. All her worries – about her family and appearance and schoolwork and small but yet significant things all felt so true and accurately realised, and I loved Buzo for bringing her to life.

Good Oil made me sad, but in a good way. It made me sad because it was so easy to recognise so many of the moments – like how Chris describes taking the road trip with his uni friends; the way Amelia agonises over making that first phone call to Chris; her first experiences with underage drinking and how a moment can feel so contained and yet so much more all-encompassing than it is; Chris’ family barbecues of many a Summer evening where you’re sitting in the hot seat all night, just waiting for all the Aunts and Uncles to start with the ‘so what’s next for you’ questions and you’re crapping your pants because HELL YOU JUST DON’T KNOW. Buzo just does them so recognisably and beautifully and I wanted to go back there to relive those moments that, although you don’t know it at the time, end up defining your life.

Like I said, this is a quiet book, lonely, but there is a warmth there and a generosity of emotion. I loved the moments with Amelia and her little sis Jess, and was also quite touched by the relationship between Chris and his sister Zoe. The characters that populate the aisles and check-outs of Woolworths are weird and wonderful and bring a lot of colour and interest to the pages. And can I just say, once again it is so great to read about your own experiences as told and understood by someone else. With Raw Blue it was the waitressing/kitchen work that I could laugh at because I understood it, and having also once worked in a supermaket myself, it was a similar experience with Good Oil. I think Buzo conveyed wonderfully the little world and hierarchy the staff inhabit, although I would have loved to hear her take on some of the customers!

Fabulous read. Another winner for Aussie YA.

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