The Plot: Amelia, fifteen, is in love with Chris. Chris is her co-worker at the local supermarket.
Chris is twenty-one years old.
Chris is finishing up university, trying to get over Michaela, figuring out what he wants to do with his life.
Amelia looks longingly at Chris, Chris jokes around and calls her “youngster.”
The Good: I hate to do this, but there will be spoilers. I know, I know, I don’t like telling too much about the plot, but this is one of those situations where what happens and doesn’t happen, matters, matters very much.
So: know this. This is not a book where a fifteen year old and a twenty-one year old get together because she is so mature and so understanding and he sees her soul and age just doesn’t matter. This is a book about a young man who knows that a twenty-one year old does not date a fifteen year old. I feel like I have to get that out there, that this is not about a creepy twenty-something.
This is a book about that delicious, wonderful feeling of being in love, in having a crush that is so overwhelming it just consumes everything. That is what Amelia feels for Chris. It is both real and solid and full of possibilities, the possibilities of sharing time with the object of one’s obsession, of looking forward to a conversation as if it were oxygen, yet at the same time it is always an illusion, a dream, something that makes her brighter but is never real.
Amelia doesn’t even know what wanting Chris means: “The yawning six-year chasm between my age and Chris’s is not the only fly in the proverbial ointment of this ‘loving Chris’ business. I’m not even sure what ‘getting’ Chris would involve; all I know is I want him.”
Amelia’s life as a student is boring and typical. She has a best friend, Penny; her older sister Liza has left for university; she’s helping take care of her little sister, Jessica, and her parents are either working or tired. She doesn’t realize it, not really, just what Chris is giving to her, by being the object of her affections.
Chris, meanwhile, is lost and out of sorts. Love is both their stories, Amelia’s and Chris’s, so the reader sees the relationship from both their points of view. For example, Amelia barely knows who Michaela is, while Michaela who left Chris and broke his heart, is a significant person in his life.
Chris is finishing up university is almost over and he’s not quite sure what he’s going to do. He feels as if he’s staying in place, as he watches friends move out, get serious about girlfriends, get jobs. Amelia is, at first, just another coworker, one who happens to be bright and different and someone smart to talk to. He is, for most of the book, terribly unaware of Amelia’s feelings. I say terribly because of course it is terrible for Amelia, but it also shows that he is just a nice guy.
Before it seems like Chris is a saint: he isn’t. At one point, he is cruel to Amelia; part of that cruelty isn’t as much about Amelia as about how lost Chris himself is at that point. While 21 is older than 15, it is still young and Chris does things that are thoughtless and cruel. Amelia, meanwhile, is self-absorbed in her feelings for Chris.
As the year goes by, the year of the two of them working together, there are highs and lows and funny parts. Working at the supermarket opens Amelia up to life beyond school, life not just of crushing on Chris but also of going to parties and having her first drink and her first kiss and even her first hangover. It’s a story told by both Chris and by Amelia, and part of the wonder of this books is how it balances and reveals and shows the two perspectives on the same year.
Love and Other Perishable Items works terrifically as a book about love and friendships and growing up: both Amelia and Chris are growing up, just in different ways. Amelia, as a fifteen year old; Chris, as a twenty-something That their lives intersect at this critical time for both is one reason their friendship works so well; and it’s to Chris’s credit that he is always mature enough to be aware that the age difference is there.
As I was mulling over this book, I realized that geography plays a big role. Not in, “set in Australia!” No, rather in the geography of the lives of Amelia and Chris. For Amelia, a job opens up a new world beyond high school. It gives her a first crush, but also other opportunities that broaden her world, including going to parties and meeting people outside her school classmates. Meanwhile, what broadens Amelia’s life is another example of how narrow Chris’s life has become. He still lives at home; his friends are fellow university students; his job gives him money, yes, but other than that it’s really just a different place, same thing: parties, hanging out.
Amelia is enjoying how big her world is becoming; Chris, not realizing it, is trying to figure out a way to escape his narrow constraints. I love that it’s the same thing, from two different viewpoints. In talking about what is New Adult, that is another thing to consider: how a twenty-something’s life is about moving beyond the borders of a teenager.
I could go on and on about what I love about this book. Amelia’s parents are a teacher and a director, both educated but both in professions that don’t provide a lot of money. Her mother is often stressed out or just plain tired; her father isn’t always home and when he is, he isn’t the most communicative. Neither has the time (nor inclination) to be a helicopter parent. Hardworking but tired and underpaid professional parents aren’t always shown in books.
Because I loved both Amelia and Chris. Because of capturing that wonderful feeling of longing for another. Because Chris’s seeking something is just as achingly drawn. This is a Favorite Book Read in 2013.