First of all I should apologise to the lovely people at Penguin who sent me this book to review, because they sent it in mid-December and it’s now mid-February. Sorry about that.
I must also apologise because they asked me to take a selfie with the book in a place that means a lot to me, and I told them I don’t really do selfies but I’d try to do the place thing, and then I completely forgot because January was fucking mental.
However I suppose the picture was taken somewhere that means something to me after all: it was resting on my mother’s bed, and I was snatching reads of it in between moving my grandmother to England, sorting all her stuff out, and helping to organise things after my grandfather died.
I offered to review this book because I’d previously reviewed The One Memory of Flora Banks, which I very much enjoyed.
I didn’t enjoy this one as much.
There were several reasons for this. Firstly, the cover seemed to promise something creepy (“…40 days until she dies”) but the book wasn’t creepy at all, and I still don’t know what the “40 days until she dies” actually means.
It started off quite promisingly: Ella Black is a teenage girl who on the outside seems to have it all: good friends, nice parents who love her, good grades at school… but what no one around her knows is that she’s a bit fucked up. She has this person living inside her, Bella, who sometimes takes over and makes her do bad things. As things in Ella’s life get more stressful, Bella increasingly takes control and Ella starts to spiral into an upside-down life where nothing is how she wants it to be.
When her parents mysteriously whisk her away to Rio in the middle of the day, pulling her out of school and away from her friends without so much as an explanation, Ella has no idea what to do. She decides she has to work out what’s going on and why they’re there, but when she cracks open the safe in their hotel room what she finds changes things forever. The newfound knowledge prompts her to take off on her own, simultaneously unravelling mentally and managing to build a bit of a life for herself in this city she’s always dreamed of visiting.
But will Ella triumph, or will Bella win out?
I mean, I guess you’ll have to read it to find out. Or you could just give this one a miss.
The story is so unlikely that it’s hard to get lost in it, and Ella herself isn’t a very sympathetic character. While she’s obviously afraid of her dark alter ego, the way her mental health spinning out of control is described doesn’t quite ring true. I’m concerned that it might perpetuate some negative stereotypes of “crazy people” (a group in which, clinically speaking, I myself have been included in the past), and perhaps make people who would benefit from help reluctant to reach out for it. I would be particularly reticent to recommend this book to its target audience – teenagers – for that very reason.
What did I like, then? Well, Barr’s writing style is still quite moreish, and is ultimately the reason I finished the book. I’m looking forward to her next novels; this one definitely didn’t put me off reading them. But it sounded a hollow note with me, and I can’t say I’d recommend it.
The Truth And Lies Of Ella Black was published by Penguin Books on the 11th of January 2018.
I received a free copy of an advance proof from the publisher in exchange for a review. In reality it’s difficult to tell if this affected my view of it, because arguably we’re all affected by every experience we have, but I think it’s fair to say that if the publisher had been controlling what I was going to write, they probably wouldn’t have asked for this.