Review: Holier Than Thou – Laura Buzo.

Synopsis from Goodreads.
Holly Yarkov has a boyfriend who is a gift from the universe. She has a job that fulfils 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.

So normally when I dislike a book that is obviously a well-written, unique and great book, I normally say something along the lines of “Oh well, this book obviously wasn’t written for me.’
I can’t really say that for this one, because… well, this book was written for me.
Well, not literally.
Ms Buzo didn’t sneakily e-mail me and say ‘HEY JO! I’ve written a book AND IT’S FOR YOU’. But I’m the same age as the heroine and this is kind of a big deal for me. There are tons of books written about children, there are even more books written about teenagers but then… there’s kind of a lull. And then we jump right ahead to the twenty seven year old business ladies who work in the city but have a LIFE CRISIS so they move to a rural farm where they fall in love with a gardener and/or an underwear model or something.
But where are the books about the people who have just left university? They’re expected to be grown-ups for the first time ever. Life is staring at them and saying: “Go on, it’s your move.”
Imagine the angst!
The last time I read a book where I was the same age as the heroine was Harry Potter. But that probably doesn’t count because SPOILER I am not a witch. But in Holier Than Thou, Holly is my age! Now! And she has problems and issues that I have! Right? We’re going to be the bestest of friends!
Well, in theory.
I’ve had bad experience with media about leaving university before. In the month or so after we handed our dissertation in and before we got kicked out of our student house, my best friend and I watched Post Grad. Now, I refuse to apologise because I was basically watching any film that wasn’t directed by Scorsese and Allen but… wow. That film was pretty much the worst film in the entire world to watch after you’ve just graduated.
Luckily, this book didn’t have the same effect on me as that film did (read: I don’t punch wildly at things when it’s mentioned) but I still didn’t enjoy it. I don’t know what it is about Ms Buzo but it seems that she has a great knack for writing great stories with characters I really dislike. I just really, really didn’t like Holly at all. I found her extremely negative and cynical and… well, kinda whingy. Now don’t get me wrong, it would have been just as bad if she’d been Mary Sunshine, happy happy, joy joy for the whole book, because no one is like that. But…I don’t even think she laughed once. Apart from when she was laughing bitterly at how her life was over before she was twenty five.

What follows is a conversation that I had with Flann about this book because it’s interesting and I think it will explain a bit better the problems I had with it than I could. Also, it will get me off the hook from actually writing a proper review.

Jo– I’m really struggling with Holier Than Thou, by the way.
Flann– Yeah? What don’t you like about it?
Jo-I don’t know. I don’t really like Holly.
Flann– No? I totally liked her.
Jo– I find her really aggressive, like she has this sense of entitlement about everything just because she doesn’t know what to do with her life. I’m not that far into it but, yeah… I’m not in love with it.
Flann-Hm. I’m trying to think about what you mean. She definitely has an attitude towards her friends because she think what she is doing is more worthy.
Jo– Yeah…just her whole outlook on life is just really difficult for me to understand.
Flann– Do you have a lot of friends doing business/finance jobs?
Jo– No, most of my friends are in retail or admin.
Flann– I think I could just relate to her a bit because after college, I was honestly digging through flooded houses and shit and building stuff and I’d visit my college friends and they’d just go to work in a skyscraper and then go get drunk every day after work and it was hard not to think what I was doing was more worthwhile. If that makes sense? So I can identify with the feelings Holly has towards her friends who aren’t doing anything that is blatantly helping others.
Jo-Yeah it does. Maybe it’s because I’m kind of in her situation… but it’s very different. Like, I’ve graduated but because of the times, I’ve had to move home and except for like two of them, all my friends are doing jobs that have nothing to do with their degrees.
Flann– I think you are at an interesting point in your life right now. Like you aren’t doing something that you love, but I think Holly’s at that point, like a few years down the line (even if she is the same age) when people are settling into permanent jobs and it’s like a crisis because this is it. Shit’s scary
Jo– It’s weird because Holly reads a lot older than me. I’m not saying I’m immature (although I probably am) but hardly any of my friends have permanent ‘real life’ jobs. I feel like I’m kind of in limbo at the moment and even though it’s annoying and doing an admin job feels tedious to me, it’s exciting. Maybe it’s because Holly has kind of written it off as ‘this is it, nothing exciting will happen now’… but I (and my friends) are still, probably naively, thinking that our ‘real life’ hasn’t begun yet. There’s still stuff to be excited about.
I think I just quoted a Colin Hay song.
Flann– That’s exactly it.
Jo– But yeah, Holly doesn’t read like a 23 year old to me, tbh. She takes herself very seriously and she’s so cynical. It’s just like…. Show us a smile, Holly!
Flann– I was thinking you’d like it because I wrongly assumed a bunch of your friends would be in but I wonder if you’ll like it more a few years down the line
Jo– I think a couple of years ago, I would… but because of the recession and how difficult it is to get a job at the moment. Only one of my friends actually has a job that she would quite happily stay in for the rest of her life (primary school teacher)
Flann– I really liked it because it reminds me of early 20s me. Though I am still pretty lost.
Jo– But all my other friends have their passions (related to their degree) but they do it on the side and they don’t get paid for it. Like me with my writing/blogging, my friend doing amateur dramatics… etc etc. Do you understand what I’m saying though? I feel a bit lost trying to sort out my feelings with this one.
Flann– no, I totally get what you’re saying about HTT. I think in a few years, many of your friends will give up their passions. That’s the point when you would like the book more. (sad but true)

I realised I made a mistake in the above conversation. Holly is actually 24.
So that means I still have just over six months until I turn 24. Maybe that’s it. Maybe that’s why I didn’t like this book because I don’t believe that I only have a year left of being passionate about things I love and looking forward to what’s next. I’m 23 and I don’t share that outlook that this is it.
Yeah, I’m not where I want to be in life, but unlike Holly I can add one more word onto that sentence. I’m not where I want to be in life…yet.
Call me naïve, but I don’t want to settle and I’m not going to stop believing.

And yes, I did just quote a Journey song.

16 thoughts on “Review: Holier Than Thou – Laura Buzo.

  1. Wow! That was a fantastic review! I’ve been hearing a lot of mixed reviews about this novel but I am still very curious about checking it out since I loved Good Oil. I think it’s great that you incorporated your conversation with Flann into this review as it definitely made me understand Holly’s character and situation much better. I am not at the fork in the road that you or Holly are at right now, but I still feel quite lost and confused about where I want to be in life. I think your review did a wonderful job of comparing Holly’s more cynical personality with your more hopeful one. I’m not sure if I’ll like this book, but I most definitely want to read it after your interesting review! :D

    Ivy Book Bindings

    • Thanks Keertana! I’m glad you enjoyed it and that it didn’t put you off wanting to read it! It’s obvious that Buzo is a great story-teller (and kudos to her for doing something so different than everything else that is out there at the moment) but unfortunately, this wasn’t the book for me!

      Let me know what you think of it when you read it :)

  2. I enjoyed this “review,” Jo. I have this book as well but now I’m a little hesitant to read it because I hate whiny characters. The fact that you plain just didn’t like Holly gives me pause because that’s a deal breaker for me. If I don’t like the MC then I usually won’t end up enjoying the read. Thanks for the honest review. :)

  3. I was really surprised to find out that you didn’t like this, hun! I really connected with Holly. Maybe it’s hard to understand how she feels because her job is really tough. I think people in health care really have to put up with a lot of shit and it breaks you down quicker than just working a boring office job, so some people just won’t get how negative and cynical she is, but that’s how you have to be to make it through the day.

    And I don’t think she’s giving up on her life, she’s just going through a tough phase and she’s wondering how she ended up where she did. I like to think Holly went on to find something that made her happy.

    • No, I get that, I really do. That’s the main reason I didn’t like Holly, I didn’t connect with her. I don’t work in health care and I know I’d be horrible at it, and I’m not suggesting that my boring office job is similar to that all.

      I guess I didn’t really see a social worker as a ‘stop-over’ job, which REAL HONEST-TO-GOODNESS SPOILER GUYS LOOK AWAY!!- it kind of seemed it was when Holly quit at the end. Like she’d worked hard to get that job (and she was quite high up in it already and respected)…. I don’t know. I always assumed that it was a ‘career’ kind of job and something that you want to be when you grow up and the fact that she was already so disillusioned and unhappy already.. I don’t know, I’m really struggling with justifying my opinions on this book.

      I hope she did too. :)

      • I get that too, compared to some of the people she worked with it seemed odd, the people older than her had been doing it all their lives. Maybe it was a statement on the fact that these days our generation doesn’t pick one job and stick with it? We all get bored and flit about, from job to job?

        I’ve got some interview questions waiting to be answered, and I wanted to ask if that was how Laura is now feeling about her job as a social worker? But I didn’t ask – shoulda, woulda, coulda!

  4. Sorry to hear you didn’t love this one, Jo! Love your review though and it was nice to see that conversation that you had with Flann in relation to the book. I’m planning to read this soon and I have a feeling I’m going to love it but we’ll see.

  5. It doesn’t sound like I’d like this either, Jo. It basically sounds like it would depress the hell out of me, especially hearing that most people give up there passions at our age. I haven’t friggin done anything yet!!! :(

    But maybe I’m hyper sensitive right now. Just realised I’m one year closer to 30 and I have no idea what I’m doing with my life! *PANIC* I think I’ll go and eat another cupcake…

    • Mate, have a cupcake on me.
      It’s just a bit… eh, I don’t know. I’ve not actually spoke to anyone our age who has read this one so I’d be interested to see if anyone else in our age group is like… whaaaaat?

      But you HAVE done things. Don’t make me yell at how good your illustrations are.


      You know I’m your biggest fan.

  6. I’d totally forgotten that you were going to include that. It does really explain why I liked the book so much and why you didn’t but it doesn’t have a ton to do with Buzo’s writing. I am still so curious whether you’ll like this in a few years if you ever read it again. (I doubt you will;-)) Spoiler alert that you aren’t a witch, Jo. What the heck?

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