A promising situation undermined by an unlikeable protagonist. 3/5 stars.
Thank you to Penguin and NetGalley for providing me with an e-copy of this book.
The blurb: 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…
Last year, Emily Barr’s previous book – The One Memory of Flora Banks – was the only book I gave 5 stars to. I loved Flora, I loved her story, and so I was excited to get my hands on a copy of The Truth and Lies of Ella Black. I had high hopes.
I’m sad to say I didn’t love this book. And this even though there are many similarities between Ella Black and Flora Banks: both give us a female teenage protagonist with mental health issues, struggling with seemingly rubbish parents who are keeping secrets from them. However, while I found Flora instantly likeable, Ella came across as whiny and, until quite late in the book, tremendously ungrateful, immature and annoying.
As the entire book is narrated from Ella’s point of view, it was a long time to be stuck in the headspace of someone I didn’t particularly care for. Not even the colourful travelogue aspects of the book – as we get a tour of the main sights of Rio – could offset her more irritating personality traits.
The other characters, who might have acted as a buffer for Ella’s less attractive qualities, lacked depth. Weirdly this makes sense: the story is told from Ella’s point of view and she’s so egocentric no-one else is given enough consideration to become fully-fleshed. Just another reason I can’t get on with her!
The romance thread of the plot should have come over as sweet, but instead struck me as an example of Ella’s reckless and ill-judged behaviour. Meanwhile neither the big secret or twist surprised me at all as I thought they were telegraphed fairly clearly from early on in the book. And sadly the countdown to “her” death (not a spoiler, it’s there right from the front cover!) failed to fill me with suspense because you have to care for a character to worry about whether they’re going to die or not.
On balance, Ella’s rougher experiences do lead to some personal growth by the end of the book (but she takes her time about it!) and in her affection for her two best friends we do see something of her softer side, but these glimpses are sadly rare.
Overall: skip this and read The One Memory of Flora Banks. And if you’re thinking of picking up Ella Black because you enjoyed Flora Banks, I’d suggest you re-read Flora.
Claire Huston / Art and Soul