Book Review – Chelsea High by Jenny Oliver

First published, 2020

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

The story follows teenager Norah as she and her parents leave their island home under a cloud of confusion and disgrace. Having lost the savings of every friend and acquaintance the family had, Norah’s father attempts to prove his innocence while all his bills are paid for by his lordly parents, who live out the back of Harrods.

Starting at a new, fee-paying school, with utterly beautiful students, and her family’s reputation in tatters, finds Norah struggling to make friends and fit in, while vehemently defending her father. However, when the school’s drama department puts on a production of the musical Grease, Norah just knows she has to play Sandy. But is social media influencer and queen of the bullies, Coco, ready to share the spotlight?

There’s a lot to like in this brand new and shiny, New Adult novel. The characters are crisp and clear and the story is strong. I didn’t need quite so much detail on what every character was wearing, but it did fit in with the general, money doesn’t equal class theme.

It’s a bit tricky, when the narrator is the teenaged protagonist, to highlight instances of hit-and-miss English because who’s to say that’s not the way the character speaks, especially at that age? For example:

“I did the washing up before I left, arms in soapy suds, wondering who would be in the gallery at the court. Would all my old friends’ parents be crowded in? People who I spent my childhood playing round their houses, picking strawberries with, eating their crisps at pub tables, swinging from ropes across the river. All of them now broke.”
page 102, Chapter Nine, Chelsea High by Jenny Oliver

However, moments of patchy fluency were more than balanced out by some stunning observation. Especially here, where Norah has to improvise flirting with the boy she rather likes…

“I made a face. I have no idea what it looked like. It was meant to convey nonchalance but it definitely didn’t.”
page 159, Chapter Thirteen, Chelsea High by Jenny Oliver

There are times, of course, when you read something and think, ‘I’m going to have to remember that line for use in times of crisis’. I’m avoiding every line around it because – spoilers – but this is one of them:

“‘What you have to remember is that you don’t just get one shot.’”
page 252, Chapter 24, Chelsea High by Jenny Oliver

I’m hanging onto that line for the rest of my life. Brava.