Love and Other Perishable Items earned a 2013 finalist nomination for the William C. Morris Award- which honors a book written for young adults by a previously unpublished author. Author Laura Buzo creates a teenage romance story set in modern day Australia. The central plot concerns two grocery store workers, high school student Amelia Hayes (age 15) and university student Christopher Harvey (age 21), who work at Coles supermarket (sarcastically known as the “Land of Dreams”). The book’s title Perishable Items probably has something to do with the fact that the characters work in a supermarket. Amelia and Chris are in and out of love with each other. The book tracks the relationship through its ups and downs. Essentially the conflict here is character vs. character, but smaller conflicts with supporting characters (such as grocery store worker Ed or Chris’ Uncle Jeff) do take place.
The story is told from the point of view of the two protagonists, Amelia and Chris. In addition to the actual writing a journal notebook entry style format is used to delineate which character is speaking. In reality each character is sharing their private thoughts in a diary that the reader has access to.
Amelia’s journal is organized by the month. In addition a phrase usually describes what is going on with her during a particular month. For example, for the month of April she has listed “Nothing but Interesting Times”. Within each month entries are headed by certain topic titles (such as Getting the Hello Out of Here, Learning the Ropes, Christmas, etc.).
Chris has a journal that is organized by the name of the notebook, which is most likely the notebook’s color. For example, I see that Chris used notebooks called the Purple Notebook and the Black Notebook. Within the notebook entries are headed not by topic but by the plain old date. The date is usually just the month/day and no year is given. Occasionally there is even a precise time of day located with the entry. For example, on page 212 an entry is marked June 5, 11PM.
I found the characters to be believable for a teen audience. There are a number of reasons for this. First, is the use of profanity by the teens which is used just enough to give the characters a bit of an edge, but not enough to be a complete turn off. Secondly, the how the characters view what is happening in their larger society is totally realistic. As is taking place in many countries Chris as a young man of 21 is still living at home as he finishes university and has to decide where next to go on his life journey. On page 120 he is distressed that his friend Rohan has chosen a major that will lead to a job after his graduation from university, while he might be stuck. As Chris reveals, “What am I going to do with a degree in sociology?” Chris’ father views home ownership as better than renting and states, “Why throw your money away on rent?” However, Chris views (per page 106) the payment of rent as an investment in your own sanity and independence. Thirdly, the characters engage in behavior that is becoming more common among adolescents. Characters have sex, smoke, drink, and do pot. Fourthly characters come into conflict with fellow workers, parents, relatives, and siblings.
The setting in Australia is obvious. As a first time author Buzo, a lifelong resident of Sydney, may have felt comfortable writing about a setting she is intimately familiar with. The setting is important to the story as it explains why Christmas is in the warm season, why words like “car park” and “uni” are used, why the names of towns such as Perth come up, and why the bus system is used far more often than it would be in an American teenage story where characters would solely use cars. That being said, the story could have taken place in the U.S. and would have been just as believable because the societies’ that the teens live in are generally the same. Teens work entry level jobs to save money for school, live at home to make ends meet, grapple with love, and confront issues such as sex/ substance abuse.
The glass jar on the front cover did not exactly do it for me and the shopping cart on the back was helpful only after you realize that the teens are working in a grocery store.
School Library Journal reviewer Susan Riley has noted that, “The realistic conclusion is a bit open-ended, which lends hope that there will be a sequel.”
In the end Chris heads to Japan to teach for one year. Amelia is torn between waiting for Chris and getting on with her life.