The curse of being a cool, smart girl in high school (as I’m sure many HG readers were/are) is that high school boys often just can’t keep up. While there are teenage boys out there who are smart, sensitive, and funny, they can be hard to find, and other teenage boys can just seem kind of, well, lame. That’s why so many smart girls often find themselves falling for (insert dramatic music here) older men. Someone who can drive, legally drink, go to college and just be an adult can be super attractive when you’re so over high school.
In Love and Other Perishable Items, that’s exactly the situation Amelia finds herself in when she falls for Chris. He’s her fellow employee at a grocery store, and he’s witty, cute and cool. He’s also 21, while she’s just 15. To an outside observer, there’s no way these two can be together, legally or logically. Yet their mental connection is for real. As we see them interact at work, at parties and in the letters they write to each other, we get the sense that Amelia and Chris really would be perfect for each other, if it weren’t for that pesky age gap.
I loved Amelia because her feelings were completely believable. Do you remember what having a crush was like when you were 15? Maybe you were a cooler character than I was at that age, but crushes basically took over my life back then. Recently, I read through my journal from my freshman year of high school (not always the best idea, guys) and I was shocked and appalled by how every entry was basically like, “THIS BOY TALKED TO ME TODAY!” or “WHY DIDN’T THIS BOY TALK TO ME TODAY?” That’s embarrassing, but I don’t think I’m alone. At that age, a lot of people tend to define themselves by what other people think of them. Combine that with raging hormones and you’ve got a dangerous cocktail called “I’m Unable To Think About Anything But My Crush” (I wouldn’t try to order that cocktail at a bar, btw).
What makes Love and Other Perishable Items special is that it handles a dicey topic in an unusually graceful way. This isn’t Lolita, and Chris is not a weird perv like Humbert Humbert. It would be so easy to cast Chris as a creep and Amelia as pathetic, but author Laura Buzo doesn’t get lazy. Instead, she makes Amelia and Chris into fully human characters. L&OPI doesn’t present a relationship between a 15 year old and a 21 year old as acceptable (because it isn’t!). Instead, the book looks at the human feelings that come along with finding yourself in a love affair that’s truly impossible and definitely heartbreaking.
-I didn’t realize this book was Australian until the characters complained about how hot it was at Christmas. I was all, “Wait, what’s this book even talking about? It’s cold at Christmas!” before I remembered that seasons in Australia aren’t the same as they are in America. And this made me realize that all I know about Australia comes from Summer Heights High and Picnic at Hanging Rock (so basically all I know is that Chris Lilley is a genius and you should not go on a picnic at Hanging Rock). Clearly I need to learn more about the world.
-Okay, so everything I said earlier about this book being a realistic depiction of a 15 year old’s crush might make you think it’s all romance and swooning. But it’s so not! It also has a lot to say about gender roles, the division of household labor, marriage and feminism in general. Not enough YA books manage to feature both references to and critiques of Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique, which is a real shame!
-While L&OPI is mostly from Amelia’s point of view, it also features excerpts from Chris’s journals. We learn about the horrors of graduating from college and turning 22. Despite what Taylor Swift tells us, it is not that exciting. From my own personal experience (several years ago, thankfully), being 22 involved a lot less dressing up like hipsters/making fun of exes/breakfast at midnight/falling in love with strangers and a lot more moving in with my parents/being unable to find a job/binge-watching Twin Peaks in despair/teaching myself how to crochet. And while I don’t regret that year of my life (Twin Peaks is a fabulous show, Special Agent Dale Cooper is my dream man and crocheting has brought me nothing but joy), I am very, very glad it’s far (well, several years) behind me. So reading about the despair Chris faces while trying to figure out what he’ll do with his life and navigating the mundane but very real dilemmas that come along with growing up (like “How am I ever going to save up enough money to move out of my parents’ house?” for example) really gave me some personal flashbacks. And dealing with all of that while only relating to a 15 year old girl would have to be tough.
What about you guys? Have you read Love and Other Perishable Items? Did you ever have a crush on an older dude or lady? And have you ever crocheted an entire blanket while watching Twin Peaks? Let me know in the comments! And, as always, I love to hear your suggestions for books to feature in Young Adult Education. Leave a comment, send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org or find me on Twitter @KerryAnn.