Book #81

The Truth and Lies of Ella Black by Emily Barr

Ella Black seems to live the life most other seventeen-year-olds would kill for. Until one day, telling her nothing, her parents whisk her off to Rio de Janeiro. Determined to find out why, Ella takes her chance and searches through their things. And realises her life has been a lie.
Her mother and father aren't hers at all. Unable to comprehend the truth, Ella runs away, to the one place they'll never think to look - the favelas. 
But there she learns a terrible secret - the truth about her real parents and their past. And the truth about a mother, desperate for a daughter taken from her seventeen years ago.

This was such an excellent premise - a girl with two opposing selves fighting one another, a girl who finds out her life has been a lie, a girl who is desperate to solve the mystery of her origins, and achieve a life she has dreamed of. It seemed as though it would be such a whirlwind of a story, and yet its poor execution has left me deeply disappointed.


First of all, let’s talk about Ella. She’s a normal teenager living a normal life, only she has Bad Ella (Bella) constantly fighting to take control. This hints massively at an underlying mental health condition, but Barr doesn’t deal with it sensitively, nor is there any good advice on how Ella should be dealing with this, nor signs of her overcoming it. No hope.


She’s written as such an abhorrent and bratty girl, having tantrums and disrespecting her parents. I did wonder if I disliked her so much because I was reading as an adult, but I cannot in good faith imagine any young adults reading this to connect with her either. We’re supposed to be along on this journey with her, supporting her, and wishing her well, and yet she is a constant irritant.


The story of Ella’s parentage is a great one, but seems to fall flat. Finding out where she came from was exciting, and I truly felt there was more to come from this, but it all seemed rushed; a woefully long ramble.


Worst of all is the romance factor here. I am a great believer that most YA novels are <i>never</i> in need of any romance shoehorned in, and this is probably one of the worst cases I’ve seen. Ella claps eyes on a boy and falls in ‘love’ with him before even speaking to him. Barr’s description of this ‘love’ is grim - we are simply told of these emotions consuming Ella, and are never shown anything to warrant them, or indeed to show this guy as an ideal candidate for passion. I think it’s important YA readers aren’t pulled into dangerous love tropes, and an older guy who didn’t seem to mind Ella was still in school is a big one.


I just feel incredibly indifferent about this; it reminds me of seeing McDonald’s burgers on the telly, but once I go and buy one I see it’s significantly mediocre in comparison.