The Truth and Lies of Ella Black

The Truth and Lies of Ella Black was written by Emily Barr and first published in 2017. It is a contemporary thriller that focuses on a teenage girl who discovers that her parents are hiding a dark secret. The novel stands alone, so you do not have to read any of the author’s other work to fully appreciate it.

Although Ella Black feels smothered by her mother, she knows that she has it good. She lives in a nice area, goes to a posh school and has two wonderful friends – Lily and Jack. Yet she knows, deep down, that there is something wrong with her. Ella has a dark side that she calls “Bella” – a voice in her head that encourages her to do bad things and hurt people – and she is finding it hard to keep control.

Then comes the day that her mother suddenly pulls her out of school. Her parents explain that they have to go to Brazil for a while, but will not tell her why. They take her phone and politely encourage her not to contact her friends. Although Ella has always wanted to visit Rio, she can’t help but worry. She wonders if her parents have done some terrible, and her fear makes Bella even harder to control.

When Ella finally learns the secret that they are hiding, she is horrified. Her parents have been lying to her for her entire life, hiding the truth of who she is. And then Bella makes her do something unforgivable. Certain that her parents and the police are in pursuit, Ella runs away. Yet, unable to speak the language and with little money to her name, how can she hope to survive on the streets of Rio?

Before I begin, a word of warning. While The Truth and Lies of Ella Black is a pretty harmless novel on the whole, it does contain one scene of sudden and horrific animal abuse. It’s very early on in the story and never happens again, yet I did feel that the scene was gratuitous and completely unnecessary. You have been warned.

I was really excited to get hold of this novel as I loved The One Memory of Flora Banks when I read it last year. Yet, unfortunately, I was left feeling really disappointed. While the two novels did share a lot of similarities, such as the controlling parents, the life-long deception and the running away to a foreign country, it just did not work for me this time around. It felt as though a lot of the things that worked well in Flora Banks were just now seem to be weaknesses in in author’s writing style.

Much like in Flora Banks, the story is told in the first person from the perspective of a teenage protagonist. However, Ella’s narrative voice isn’t all that different to Flora’s. For me, this was a problem. This narrative style really did suit Flora very well. It nicely got across how naive and vulnerable her mental condition made her through her childish voice and repetitive speech patterns. This doesn’t have the same effect when applied to Ella who, despite having a dark side, is otherwise portrayed as being an intelligent and articulate teenager.

Although the premise of The Truth and Lies of Ella Black is intriguing, I personally felt that it lost its momentum once Ella reached Brazil. Up until this point, the story maintained its tension will. You really felt Ella’s powerlessness and confusion as her parents whisked her away. Yet the story just couldn’t maintain this. When they first reached Brazil, Ella was too easily dazzled by the excitement of Rio and stopped asking the important questions. For me, this felt mad. Her parents had, basically, kidnapped her. She had every right to be furious. But, for some reason, she seemed reluctant to confront them.

As Ella discovers the truth about her past, the story rapidly lost its focus. It just never stuck with any thread for very long. Ella meets a lot of different people at each stage of her journey but these are always left behind as she moves on. While the novel has its share of twists and turns, these all seemed to lack tension as they never added anything substantial to the tale. Everything just came far too easily to Ella. Despite the fact she runs away in a strange city, unable to speak the local language, she some how comes up on top and even, at one point, manages to land a teaching job despite having no passport or references. What world is this actually set in?

Even the climax of The Truth and Lies of Ella Black felt a bit lacklustre. Ella did not ever confront her parents about their lies directly. The novel just closed with a letter that she had written to them, a year after the events of the story. For me, this was not enough closure. There was no sense of Ella facing her problems. They all just melted away during that unseen year. I’m also a bit confused as to what the tagline on the front of the book really meant, as there was no sense of Ella “dying”. Even though every chapter heading counted down to the supposed death, there was not even really any sense of this occurring, even in the metaphorical sense.

Yet my biggest issue with the story was Ella herself. While it is easy to feel a degree of sympathy towards her due to her situation, she does not make it easy to do so. From the animal abuse of the first chapter to her later tantrums, she just seems to toe the line between being a sociopath and just being spoiled. It annoyed me that she never faced any ramifications for the horrible things that she does as “Bella”. Its clear that she has some kind of serious mental illness, yet no one ever addresses this.

She is also terrible to her parents. I don’t want to go into this too much here for fear of spoilers, but I will just note that I understand her anger. She has very right to be upset at her parents for hiding things from her. Yet my problem is that she never truly forgives them. She runs away to the suburbs of Rio and never directly interacts with them again. This is really, really frustrating. You would never believe that she was almost eighteen. She talks and behaves more like a thirteen-year-old.

The novel also contains some really frustrating insta-love between Ella and Christian. Christian is a darling and, because of this, I don’t understand what he sees in Ella. They go out on one date and he is so smitten with her that he’s prepared to lie to the police about her whereabouts, send her money and over her the chance to live with him in Miami. As you can see, this is not the most realistic of contemporary fiction novels.

Anyhow, I’m starting to ramble so I guess that I’ll wrap this up. All in all, The Truth and Lies of Ella Black did not captivate me in the same way that The One Memory of Flora Banks did. While it did build intrigue for a while, I lost interest in the story when it became clear what was truly going on. Most of my issues centred around the character of Ella herself, as I found her to be a frustrating and immature protagonist. It is certainly not a novel that I would recommend.

The Truth and Lies of Ella Black can be purchased as a Paperback, eBook and Audio Book on Amazon.co.uk

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© Kim Dyer and Arkham Reviews, 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Kim Dyer and Arkham Reviews with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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