There is nothing like a good read about teenage angst and unrequited love to make you feel like life is relatively simple for us adults and that’s what you get with Laura Buzo’s debut novel. It tells the story of Amelia and Chris, co-workers at a supermarket who are drawn inexorably towards each other. There is just one problem: Amelia is 15 whilst Chris is 21.
Set in Australia, Amelia lives with her parents and her little sister, Jess who is 3. She has an older sister, Lizey, who is away at university and rarely home, and her best friend, Penny at school. Her parents are together but to Amelia, do not seem happily married: her mother is a teacher at a rough school and has the responsibility of running the house, taking Jess to childcare and preparing meals whilst Amelia’s father is a theatre director who seemingly smokes, directs, reads, enjoys classical music and doesn’t do a lot else to help. This uneven division of labour is something that Amelia resents quite powerfully and wishes would change but it is also a subject which draws her closer to Chris, it being a topic of discussion between them at work.
Chris is at university studying but is living at home to keep costs down. He has recently come out of a very passionate relationship with another student called Michaela who, it transpires, still had a boyfriend, Brad back in Perth, Western Australia, of whom Chris knew nothing. Michaela is back in WA with Brad and Chris is bereft. He is looking for distractions and there are plenty of female ones at Coles’ supermarket but they are time fillers rather than relationship material. Except for Amelia.
The narrative shifts between Amelia and Chris so that we get to see both perspectives on their interactions with each other. They are both written in the first person although Amelia’s is a more authorial voice as we follow the action and the dialogue along with her in real time whereas Chris’ thoughts are written down in coloured notebooks, like a journal.
The age difference is a problem. Amelia is a fairly mature girl and is academically astute but there is a feeling that she has little experience of the world and certainly none concerning the intimate side of relationships, having never been kissed at the start of the book. Chris, however, is definitely more experienced in life and sex but sees something in Amelia which makes her more real to him than the women around him who are more age appropriate. However, he is very much aware of the difference in years between them and as he is a nice person who could take advantage but doesn’t, he spends time with Amelia as a friend.
I really liked this book. It is hard not to like Amelia and Chris; they are both decent people and Laura Buzo does a great job of making them credible as characters. I like their exchanges which are probably more highbrow than most in terms of the literary references (Great Expectations, The Great Gatsby, The Bell Jar to name three) and the discussions on feminism but I think that this is done to show why Chris is attracted to Amelia. She is not some vacuous teenager, solely concerned with self and she is keen to stretch her mind, partly because she knows that it will impress Chris but also because that is who she is.
Chris cares about Amelia and is protective of her, watching out for other predatory males who may not be as respectful as him but is very mindful of the age difference, seeing it as a massive obstacle to any furtherance of a relationship between them. I like him for this; his presence of mind, his consideration of Amelia, his restraint in the face of an adoring young girl just ripe for exploitation…
And, of course, the drama of the story comes from the “will-they won’t-they?” scenario as the staple must-have of all good romantic tales and it would be wrong of me to reveal what happens here. Laura Buzo throws in some complications and difficulties but ultimately, the ending is satisfying and like the Jojo Moyes‘ books that followed Me Before You, you get a sense that there would be potential for a follow-up. I would certainly read it.
Laura Buzo’s book is worthy of the plaudits – it was entertaining, fresh, witty and took me back rather enjoyably to the days of teenage uncertainty and the finding of oneself without the rollercoaster of emotion that being a teenager involved.