Book Review: Holier than Thou by Laura Buzo

Holly Yarkov has a fairly charmed life at first glance. She’s just moved in with her boyfriend, who seems to be the perfect man, and she works a job that she loves (even though it wears on her).  Her group of friends is steady and strong, and she’s always prided herself on having a heart of steel.  But as she begins to think about the future, she finds herself ruminating on the past, and it isn’t long before that steel heart starts to show some wear.

I was a big fan of Buzo’s first novel, originally titled Good Oil (and being published under the new name Love and Other Perishable Items in the United States on December 11th).  I blogged about it, even though at the time it didn’t have a U.S. release date.  Then I went to great lengths to get this one shipped to me from Australia, as it isn’t available in the states (here’s to hoping that changes).  I got the book, read the first 30 pages…and let it sit on my shelves, untouched, for over a month.  It wasn’t until I took a vacation in August that I finally sat down with this book, and I’m so glad I did.  Buzo’s second novel is meant for a slightly older audience and falls firmly in the new adult genre, and it’s a standout.

Moving fluidly from the present to the past, Buzo allows Holly’s story to unfold slowly.  Holly is a difficult character to get to know, and some readers are likely to struggle making a connection with her.  However, by the end of the novel, Holly’s story becomes clear and her tendency to keep people and things at a distance makes perfect sense.  Buzo has created a memorable, flawed heroine in Holly, and her voice is exceedingly authentic.

Less successful are the secondary characters in Buzo’s novel.  While Holly’s coworker Nick is well-drawn, interesting, and wholly relatable, Holly’s supposed-to-be-perfect boyfriend Tim never feels fully fleshed-out.  Also problematic are Holly’s high school friends, who are featured in the beginning and then fade to the background (this feels intentional on the part of Buzo, but it was still disappointing).  This feels like a case where the novel could have been longer to fit in more of the characters.

There’s lots of great stuff here, but what Buzo excels at is not giving Holly, or her readers, any of the easy answers.  She raises a lot of questions about love, loss, family, and what it means to realize the job you’ve worked so hard for might not be right for you.  All of the stuff in this novel will resonate with readers in their twenties who might feel as lost as Holly.

Highly, highly recommended.  If you can get your hands on a copy, do so.

Holier Than Thou by Laura Buzo. Allen & Unwin: 2012. Purchased copy.