Holier Than Thou by Laura Buzo
Published: May 1, 2012 by Allen & Unwin
Received: On loan from Magan - thank you!
Holly Yarkov has a boyfriend who is a gift from the universe. She has a job that fulfills her even as it wears her down. She has a core group of friends from high school. And she has a layer of steel around her heart that is beginning to tarnish. Just as she is reaching for a future she can't quite see, Holly is borne back into the past by memories of her beloved father, and of the boy-who-might-have-been...
Grief and longing run like veins of quicksilver through this beautiful novel, at once gloriously funny and achingly sad.
Laura's confident, astute and witty voice has already been recognized with the success of Good Oil, with North American English rights sold to Knopf and German language rights sold to Arena. It was also shortlisted for the Prime Minister's
Literary Awards. Her second novel is extraordinary and bittersweet – and shows us exactly what it is like to be a young person today – navigating the complexities of work, love, family and how to pay the rent. [goodreads]
It's no surprise that yet another Aussie book has completely won me over. I first discovered Buzo's writing in Love and Other Perishable Items -- a story that so brilliantly swept me away. So I was very anxious to read her next novel, thanks to Magan from Rather Be Reading for loaning me her copy. This particular piece embodies the essence of what a slow, well paced novel does for my literary soul. It's the quiet stories that really grab me, especially when I least expect them to, and refuse to let go. This one took its time, allowing me to truly understand and appreciate its greatness.
The chapters are told through Holly's eyes, switching back and forth from present day to her memories growing up. It took a bit of concentration to fully grasp what was occurring in the present, as opposed to a memory that only occurred a year before; but once I got the flow down I couldn't stop reading. We see Holly as a teenager, living at home with her mom who is nursing her father's final days. Those moments really set the tone for what kind of person Holly would become later in life. Watching a loved one, especially your parent, slip away is something that changes you. There is a before and an after. Our afters may not fully hit us until much later in life, but regardless they are there and shape us down a path we may not always know we've taken.
Through Holly's years as a teen, then into college, and even as a young adult in the working world, she is surrounded by a close group of friends. I loved the challenges that Buzo presented at how hard it can be to stay friends with the same group of people as you all grow and evolve into adults. It can be really tough sometimes. But it can also be rewarding to be surrounded by people who know exactly who you are and what you need out of life. On the outskirts of Holly's relationships with her friends is also the romantic relationships she develops with the boys. While one particular boy from her past remains the "what if" of her present, another swoops in and steals her heart when she least expects it, and then there's the boy who challenges everything she thought she ever stood for and wanted when it came to being happy.
I loved the dynamics of this story, how it all centered around Holly and her "holier-than-thou" persona that everyone knew her as, yet deep down she was just a girl trying to survive and find her way through life. My favorite moment of the story is when grief is described as a turning point. Some people may experience it in a healthy manner, hitting all the right stages until they've reached their stability of happiness. While others may believe they've encountered their stages of grief and came out the other side, strong and shiny as ever, but truly their emotions were just dormant burning to crack through the surface when the time was right.
This beautifully soft spoken story reached out to me and delivered a message I hadn't known I'd been searching for. The power of literature can be such a rewarding experience, especially when you least expect it. I wish so much this book was published in the US because it's a story that so many need to be reading. If you're willing to spend an extra few dollars, then I recommend purchasing a copy from fishpond. You'll laugh, you'll cry, and you'll be wanting to experience life with Holly among all her ups and downs.