Down London Road
Is Down London Road a technically good book? Maybe not. The writing is a bit unpolished, and the storyline may seem a bit trite to some. But despite its occasional flaws, I couldn’t put it down.
Johanna (Jo) Walker knows what she’s good at: being a girlfriend. She dropped out of school at sixteen to help support her family. Her abusive father went to prison and her mother descended into severe alcoholism, so Jo is responsible for supporting her younger brother, Cole. She works two jobs, as a bartender and a personal assistant, and uses her beauty to secure relationships that help her. She’s not an escort or a kept woman, but she’s very practical about the men she dates and the stability they may be able to provide.
That is, until Cameron McCabe enters the picture. Cam is not her usual type, in that he’s not older, straitlaced, or wealthy. They’re both seeing other people, but the chemistry between them is intense. Cam is between graphic design jobs and Jo helps him get a job at her bar, despite the fact that he was incredibly rude and basically called her a slut the first time they met. He thinks she’s a gold digger, an airhead, and a cheater, and tells her as much. However, when he moves into the flat below Jo’s, her secrets start to come out, and their relationship starts to transform from animosity to friendship to love.
Jo has been told repeatedly by her parents that she’s worthless, that the only good thing about her is that she’s pretty. As a result, she knows she’s beautiful and capitalizes on that. But beyond that, she sees herself as a high-school drop-out with no skills. Her mother is bedridden by her alcoholism, a secret Jo takes great pains to protect. She will do anything to protect her little brother. I respected her, and understood her self-esteem issues. It’s not particularly complex psychology – someone telling you, “You’re worthless,” leads pretty directly to feeling worthless – but the author makes it very believable (if a bit heavy-handed), and thus Jo is a very sympathetic character. I know some people hate her type—the selfless beautiful “woe-is-me” martyr heroine –but she’s not perfect, the way some of those characters are, and thus more interesting as a character. Her development throughout the novel is noticeable, and I enjoyed seeing her grow.
Cam, meanwhile, is the sort of White Knight that girls with low self-esteem dream of, the type that sees beyond the surface and affirms you in the exact words you need to hear. He may not be the man who will provide her with financial stability, but he gives Jo something worth much more: the confidence to stand up for and believe in herself. The book is told in first person, so we don’t ever see things from Cam’s point-of-view, but there are some good indicators of what’s going on in his head. He’s not perfect, either – remember, he’s a pretty big jerk to her early on – but he was exactly what she needed.
I also loved Cam’s relationship with Cole, and the way he becomes something of a mentor to him. Jo rarely introduces her boyfriends to her family, but Cam slips past her walls and becomes a huge support system for her, even before they become involved romantically.
As I alluded to earlier, the writing was probably the weakest part of the novel. It was by no means bad, just unpolished and a bit unsophisticated. I rarely tolerate exclamation points outside of dialogue, and there were some of those here. The style is more conversational than narrative, and it did feel authentic to the character’s age and stage in life even if it wasn’t exactly lyrical prose. For what it’s worth, Jo and I are the same age, and she is one of the few heroines in her mid-twenties that seems like one of my contemporaries. There’s an authenticity to her. Though she’s had more responsibilities than many women her age, there’s still an uncertainty about her that I recognize.
While I did very much enjoy this book, I can also see it being a “love-it-or-hate-it” kind of story. I let myself get swept away by the emotional factor. If you hold on too tightly, though, the appeal of this book might pass you by.