Happy Monday (haha, okay well, I tried) and welcome back. Today I’m lucky enough to be kicking off the blog tour for Jenny Oliver’s new book, Chelsea High. Norah has always lived happily on her house boat with her somewhat adorable and ridiculous parents, enjoying her home on their little island, with its cafe, canoes, and crumbling secondary school. The acting classes are the highlight of her week, run by her dad, and an old soap star, who teach them everything there is to know. Life is happy, peaceful, and stable.
That is, until Norah’s dad is arrested.
Suddenly everything is turned inside out and upside down in one swift movement, and life as Norah has known it to be is forever changed. One of those changes is the sudden appearance of grandparents Norah has never met – rich grandparents. Along with paying for a fancy new mooring for the boat closer to the city center and a fancy new lawyer to defend her dad, there’s a fancy new school, too; Chelsea High. The moment Norah arrives on her rusty bike for her first day, she knows that everything about her is unwelcome in this building, and wonders how to survive.
From a personal perspective this was a really curious book for me to read as I had some personal relation to an aspect of the storyline, although thankfully not the legal side! I spent my time in a (pretty awful) secondary state school, until the age of 16, when I started a scholarship at one of the best schools in the world for girls. My first day, I was in so over my head. I have some precious memories and friends from my time at this school, but the anxiety and terror that followed me around, from what to wear to what to eat, was absolutely complete. So reading Norah’s first days, I felt them so painfully. As the book progresses, and Norah tries her very best to change herself to fit in, I felt that old gut twisting feeling as if it was personal. So naturally I was cheering Norah on.
There’s always that One Girl at any school that makes the rules and leads the pack, and Norah finds herself on the wrong side of Coco. The journey of self discovery that Norah needs to embrace to be able to find herself in this new place, physically and emotionally, is complicated by the presence of Ezra Montgomery, even more so when Norah is cast next to him as the romantic leads for the school play.
As above, I had an emotional connection to this book that just goes to show how difficult the school years can be in leaving their mark; I’m not-quite-thirty and still remember it so well. Beside that, it was impossible not to become emotionally engaged in this story – there’s everything you need in it to embrace a teenage journey. Wherever you were on the hierarchy back then, and however old you are, it’s impossible to forget those years.
Jenny Oliver has done a superb job of creating multi-dimensional characters that you genuinely care about, with your heart tugged at as you read along. There is always something relatable in people who don’t quite know their place in the world, and Oliver uses this plot device so successfully that it almost takes over from the legal side of the novel that drives the story, with the result being this brilliantly charming novel that has something for everyone in it.
I can’t wait for Chelsea High 2!
Thank you so much to Electric Monkey at Egmont Books for this really delightful read in advance, ir is much appreciated.