London Noble is a high school senior, who—unlike most of her counterparts—doesn’t want to be popular. She really just wants to fly under the radar, unnoticed, till she can graduate and move on.
Her life is complicated by her younger sister, Jasmine, who is mentally unstable and doesn’t always take her meds. Add into the mix that she and her sister are polar opposites who have to share a room, plus London’s serious dislike of her estranged father, and you find one very stressed-out young woman.
Oh, yeah. Plus London is secretly gay.
One day, she finds herself invited to join the drama club. A girl London has been crushing on is in the club, so she accepts. While there, she meets Wade, a hugely popular stud. The two bond in drama club, and become friends of a sort.
Oh, yeah: it turns out Wade is secretly gay, also.
Their solution is a simple, if ill-advised one: London and Wade will act like a couple. They go on double-dates, carry on in school hallways, and look like a legitimate dating couple.
Where the complications arise is that few of the school’s popular girls can believe Wade would date London, who’s essentially a nobody. The only possible explanation, in their eyes, is that London is putting-out. After a night of drama club…well, drama, the rumor gets out that London has slept with another popular boy. Then another boy confesses that he, too, has had sex with London. Then another.
Eventually, London—who’d wanted nothing but anonymity—finds herself called the school slut. Her locker becomes emblazoned with the words “Dirty London,” and the popular girls are ruthless in taunting her.
Her only solace seems to be with Amber, a quiet fellow drama club student. Amber understands and serves as a friend when London most desperately needs one. The two grow closer, until London has forgotten all about the crush that got her into drama club in the first place.
Kelley York’s novel, “Dirty London,” does an excellent job presenting a troubled young girl. London just wants to escape high school unnoticed, and yet there she is, embroiled in the biggest social scandal of the year. Her relationship with her popularity-driven sister deteriorates with each subsequent embarrassing revelation, especially when London figures out exactly where Jasmine’s psych meds have been going.
London can’t believe the situation she’s found herself in, but with Amber’s help, she manages to cope. When illusions begin to dissolve in her world—when the truths out—London’s life becomes quite a bit easier.
I love Ms. York’s portrayal of London. I didn’t really want to be popular in high school, either. Let the other kids worry about it. Like a lot of teens, I just kept my head down and did my work, till I could graduate and go off to college. I had more friends than London—most kids do—but the idea was the same. Popular kids have some sort of manifest destiny to be popular, a golden ticket few of us are given.
Jasmine, too, is beautifully written. She is embarrassed by her sister in general. She doesn’t want any of her popular friends to know that London is her older sister. She cringes every time somebody could make the association. The way their relationship evolves is wonderfully handled.
I also like the way Amber figures into the story. There were no explosive meeting sparks. Amber just wants to be in the background, too. She doesn’t act in drama club. All she wants to do is work on sets and backdrops. That’s a perfect metaphor for her role in school, even as she grows to be more of a star in London’s eyes.
High school can be a bitch under the best of circumstances. In London’s case, it grows to seem insurmountable. But with Amber’s help and Wade’s—plus her mom’s—London can find her way through, and thrive despite her tumultuous year.