Reviewed by Maggie: May 24, 2012
Published May 1, 2012 by Allen & Unwin
Goodreads • Buy at Fishpond
This is how you start a new genre. Holier Than Thou ushered in "New Adult" with a bang, and I'm going as far as to say that thus far, it's the Best Book of 2012.
I had mixed feelings about Laura Buzo's Good Oil, now titled Love and Other Perishable Items in the States, and nervously pre-ordered Holier Than Thou. I figured if I didn't like it, I could pass it on to the Fishpond fearful. Now? You'll have to pry it from my cold, dead hands! (Hello, random people who came to this page expecting to see Charlton Heston. Gotcha! Now read this book.)
My best friend just finished The Hunger Games and called me in a post-reading wondrous daze. "What is it about YA? What is it that appeals to so many people?" For me, I find in YA what I'm not getting in a lot of contemporary adult fiction -- a connection. Sure I'm technically an "adult", but I still think of myself as a girl and I'm still trying to carve out my niche professionally and personally. I don't care about weddings and babies and fertility issues. I'm sure I will in the future, but as of right now, those topics are irrelevant and unappealing. One element missing from YA that I find in adult lit is the career aspect. Laura Buzo examines all the elements I love about YA and the one I love about adult lit in Holier Than Thou.
Holier Than Thou is about Holly, a 24-year-old social worker. The book opens with Holly and her co-worker being called to a client's house. They arrive too late. Then we jump back to a year earlier when Holly and her boyfriend Tim sign the lease to an apartment and move into their very first place. This is where the story starts -- on an exciting and hopeful note. The first apartment without parents! We jump back a little further to Year Ten, when much of Holly's current social group was formed and the year that her father died. Rather than be confusing, I liked the structure and how we learned of the different people and events that influenced who Holly is now. Who is Holly now? She's most of the people I know.
"How did this become my job, my life? I can't remember what I was supposed to be doing . . . but surely this wasn't it."Holly has a good but stressful job, a solid relationship with Tim, and lifelong bonds with her friends. She's "Wozza" to them, or "Woman of Steel", the girl who stoically handled her father's cancer and death even as her mother broke down. So what's the problem? This is where Buzo really shines. This is a new adult, someone who's just entered the work force, who has to decide whether to stay on the path she's started on because she'll be on that path for the next 40 years. She's someone who, after barreling through high school and college and post-grad, is finally examining her motivations. She's in a serious relationship but is this The One? There's the guy who got away -- who she talks about to the guy she works with.
Speaking of the guy she works it, she finds she's talking to him... a lot. While YA deals very well with losing friends and friends moving away, what it doesn't cover is how work affects those friendships you've had forever. While you're in school, you're pretty much on the same level as your friends. Being a student and studying is your career. Once you graduate though, that's when who you think you are is really tested. Your ideals don't always pay the bills. Or you find your dream job is more of a nightmare. Some friends flourish in their chosen field. Some friends end up stuck. Slowly, a separation begins to form -- nothing major, just little things like someone making more money. Instead of introducing your friend with who they hope to be ("This is my friend, Kim. She's pre-law."), it's now who they are ("This is Kim. She's a lawyer."). It's a subtle difference that can work its way into group dynamics. Work colleagues are suddenly the group you encounter most, and they're the ones who understand without explanation why you've had a rough day. It's telling that the title of the book refers to Holly's work nickname, "Hollier-than-thou", and not Wozza.
Holier Than Thou is an amalgam of the best of YA and the best of adult lit. I responded to it more than any book I've read this year and I can't recommend it highly enough.
Rating: 5/5 stars.
Favorite passage: "A nurse and social worker took fifteen minutes out of their shitty thankless job in the roughest corner of town, sat on a couple of milk crates drinking coffee, flopped their real selves out on the cement and both liked what they saw."
Recommended listening: Reynje created a fantastic playlist that was the perfect accompaniment to this book. In addition, I love Long Highway by The Jezabels.