“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 Hayes is in love with Chris Harvey from the moment she meets him when he trains her in at Woolworth’s. Chris is funny, charming, and smart, and he offers a respite from all the immature boys at Amelia’s school. The only problem is, Chris is 21. The age difference notwithstanding, the two talk about everything from feminism to literature to movies, but Amelia worries that he’ll never look at her the way she looks at him. Will Chris ever see her as anything but the kid at the check-out lane?
Here’s the thing about Laura Buzo’s debut novel: it’s really, really good. Buzo takes a simple enough concept–a young girl falling for an older man–and turns it into something complex, beautiful, and utterly real. Amelia is searching for identity and Chris is searching for meaning. Despite their age difference, the two have a lot of common ground, and credit has to be given to Buzo for managing to create such undeniable chemistry between the characters by allowing them to actually interact. There is no insta-love here; it is slow-building and palpable.
Make no mistake: the characters in Buzo’s novel are remarkably well-rendered. There’s great attention to detail here, ranging from general characterization to mannerisms to speech patterns. Because Amelia and Chris trade off sections of the book (it’s not alternating chapters so much as giant chunks) whose time frames overlap, Buzo keeps the momentum going through vivid characters and genuinely funny dialogue. She also manages to craft distinct voices for both characters.
The story as a whole is incredibly well-written and heart-breaking in its realness. The story engages both the characters and the reader. Funny and charming, this is perfect contemporary YA. The novel’s bittersweet ending will leave readers satisfied and a little ache-y. Highly, highly recommended.
Unfortunately, Good Oil hasn’t been released in the U.S. If you can find a way to get one, you should do it. The trouble is worth it.
Good Oil by Laura Buzo. Allen & Unwin: 2010. Borrowed copy.