As I’ve mentioned here before, I’m very luckily a part of the Waterstones Deansgate (TEENSgate) bloggers group which I have to say, is awesome. The team are always super supportive of us and arrange some really cool events where we can meet up, discuss our favourite books, participate in book swaps and leave with way too many books if that’s even such a thing…
Our last event was in partnership with Penguin who very kindly supplied up us with copies of The Truth and Lies of Ella Black by Emily Barr and Love, Simon (originally Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda) by Becky Albertalli. Today I’ll be reviewing Barr’s novel but make sure to keep an eye out for my post about Love, Simon which I finished today and loved. Keep reading for my spoiler free review (ish) of The Truth and Lies of Ella Black!
From the cover:
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 . . .
TW: self harm and miscarriages
So I’ll start by saying that before actually picking up the book, I’d heard quite a few bad things I so wasn’t really sure what to expect. I’ll admit that it is hard to start a book with a fresh perspective after it’s either been hyped up or slated a little, so I did potentially go in with a negative frame of mind to begin with, as much as I might not have wanted to!
After a rough couple of chapters in the beginning, during which we experience animal abuse which I really did not think was necessary and believe it was only placed there for a shock factor as it didn’t aid the plot so much, Ella’s parents take her out of school halfway through the day and whisk her away to Rio. This is when one of my first biggest problems arose.
I’m fairly certain, in fact I am definitely certain, that if my parent’s had rocked up at my secondary school and tried to drag me to the airport, I’d meet them with a lot more resistance than Ella did. There was a little bit of “where are we going and why?” but in my opinion, just not enough. I was even thinking about things like “did they pack her phone charger? What about clean underwear? Do they have any medication she might have? What about a book?!”
After spending a couple of days in Rio (maybe even just one?) Ella meets a boy of a similar age, if not a bit older, and pretty much immediately falls in love. The Truth and Lies of Ella Black suffers from a major case of insta love. If my memory serves correctly, the term “i love you” is banded about after literal days.
The plot unfolds at a very strange pace; I don’t think I could even tell you how long this book spanned. As far as I can tell, it was maybe a month? Although the first two to three quarters of the book happen over only a couple of days. Similarly, and another point that really bothered me, is that I’m sure Ella only travelled alone for a few days before she started acting as if she’d been on the streets her entire life. It just didn’t sit well, and was very out of character. I do have to give the book some credit, as around 160 pages in I was more invested in the plot as I just wanted to see what on earth was going to happen. I didn’t expect the plot twist either, so I will give it that – it was shocking.
There was one particular recurring theme throughout relating to my earlier trigger warning of miscarriages and may be a tiny spoiler alert…
Throughout the book it seemed as through Ella held a resentment towards and blamed the babies that her parent’s lost through miscarriages before Ella came along. She mentions this several times, in very harsh tones, which made me feel extremely uncomfortable and actually quite sad. I understand that it was important to mention the miscarriages, but there was definitely a much better and more sensitive way to discuss this.
From the beginning, I didn’t really form an attachment to our main character Ella, even her “good” side as it is portrayed. We are given the impression that Ella suffers from split personality disorder though as far as I can remember this isn’t specified (it very well may have been but I did begin to drift towards the end…) I cannot comment on the representation of this and unfortunately haven’t come across any reviews discussing that either.
In terms of supporting characters, Ella’s parents could have been interchangeable for pretty much anyone else. I didn’t feel any depth from them at all, however having said that I do believe this story was much more about Ella’s journey which may explain that.
Ella does have gay and mixed race best friends, but again, they were not fleshed out which leads me to perceive them more as plot devices, or the fact that the author has included them just to be able to say “hey, my book includes a diverse cast!” Not cool. However again, I cannot comment on the representation and this is just my opinion – I’d have loved to have read more about her friends but unfortunately it wasn’t to be.
The love interest was pretty bleh too. I mean, Ella went through some pretty serious things throughout the book and before he really knew the truth about her, he was happy to just go along with them and act all blase. I seriously do not think this would happen in the real world, which just made it annoying.
I think I’ll wrap this review up here. Unfortunately, the story was unrealistic in my eyes from beginning to end. Ella jumped around from place to place with no resistance and consequences for her actions (including actual crimes)! which I found extremely unbelievable and just angered me. Throw in the uncomfortable scenes and badly formed plot, and this book just didn’t do it for me. I never like writing negative reviews but I would never want to lie or misguide anyone on here so I’ll always be truthful! I didn’t DNF as I was interested enough to see what would happen which I guess is a good thing, but it isn’t a story I’ll rave about unfortunately.
A huge thanks to Penguin and TEENSgate, as although I didn’t necessarily enjoy the book I always appreciate reading something outside of my normal comfort zone and genre!