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Review: The Truth and Lies of Ella Black

The Truth and Lies of Ella Black - Emily Barr

I received a copy from Netgalley.


I’m somewhat ambivalent on this one. On the one hand I actually finished it, (I barely got 20 pages into the last book I read by the same author) the plot was interesting enough, but at the same time repetitive and unbelievable. Yet there was something in the story telling that made me interested enough to want to know how it all ended.


Will be spoiler filled as there is so much in this plot that I want to rant about.


It’s a UKYA novel. Ella lives a pretty normal life, goes to school has good friends, but has a secret darker side of herself, a voice in her head that she sees a separate personality that takes over from time to time she calls Bella who makes her do bad things. Get violent, talk back to authority figures, etc. The Bella side of her personality seems to be getting worse and coming out more and more and nice docile Ella seems to have a hard time controlling Bella.


Then one day while she’s in school she’s pulled out of class and into the Head Mistress’s office where her mother is there, and her mother is pulling her out of school for a few weeks without much of an explanation, the grownups seem to know something they’re not saying. Ella’s mum is taking her to Rio for an extended vacation. It’s always been a dream of Ella’s to go to Rio. And everyone seems okay with just going. Her parents don’t tell her anything, just whisk her off to the airport and to a hotel in Rio. They’re worried and suddenly very protective. Ella wants to explore.


Naturally she wants to know what the hell is going on. Why now? They’ve taken her phone, her passport, and locked them away in a safe in the hotel room. She’s confused. Who wouldn’t be? Exploring and doing touristy things with her mum and dad Ella catches sight of a gorgeous boy, Christian, in the lobby of her hotel and after several passes at making gooey eyes at each other they finally meet.


And it’s a very annoying case of instalove. After one night of partying together Ella’s obsessed with the boy, she knows nothing about him, just that he’s gorgeous and fun and can make her forget about her weird circumstances of being in Rio. It’s eye rolling and irritating. Ella gets herself alone in her hotel room and manages to open her parents safe and finds a shocking secret that her parents had kept from her.


Spoilers but a huge part of the plot.


Ella is adopted. There’s a letter from a lawyer going about legal changes for adopted babies when they turn 18. (Ella’s 18th birthday is coming up very soon). Her birth mother is looking for her.

(show spoiler)


 She freaks out. She doesn’t know how to handle this information at all. Her reaction to me seems a little over the top, drama for the sake of drama to add to the plot. I can imagine it would be a bit of shock discovering something like this type of secret and you would most definitely have all sorts of questions. I can understand being angry that no one actually told you this secret. There is probably a valid reason for it. In the heat of the moment and anger Ella is clearly not thinking logically. The angry Bella side of her personality is coming out.  In a fit of rage she breaks a beer bottle and attacks her dad and a waiter, cutting the waiter. So she runs.


She’s confused, angry and frightened. She has her phone, her passport and a credit card she helped herself to from her parent’s safe. She figures out the PIN and can get cash to start. Her thoughts are going round and round in circles as she tries to escape from them and loose herself in the depths of Rio.  There are some wonderful descriptions of Rio and you really do get a great sense of place and Ella’s confusion as to who she is. She’s lost her identity and has no idea how to react and what to do. Unfortunately, it’s so repetitive, it’s the same worries over and over again.


Ella can be quite manipulative, she’s charming when she wants to be and works out quickly how to use people to get things she needs when she starts running low on cash. She’s not stupid, she know that her parents will be looking for her, and possibly the police as well. (And of course while all this drama is going on she’s moping over Christian who she’s still desperately in love with). She sweet talks her way into borrowing a boy’s laptop where she looks up some of the info she found hidden in her parents safe. The name in the lawyer’s letter.


And the plot gets even more ridiculous.


Ella’s real parents are serial killers. Her father was the killer, her mother used to chat up the victims, young women, befriend them and lure them back to her boyfriend who tortured and killed them. Her mother never actually killed anyone, but was convicted as an accomplice and is now out of prison. She was pregnant when she was arrested.  Ella is horrified but sort of makes sense to her as to where the nasty, cruel Bella side of her personality comes from.

(show spoiler)


She can’t face anyone. She decides to lose herself in the slums of Rio, where no one will look for her. Her passport and credit card are stolen. So she resorts to a little self-help. She learns to take advantage of people’s kindness to a struggling young girl. After sleeping rough a few nights she talks her way again into finding places to say and sees her picture on the news. She can’t speak a word of Portuguese but knows she needs to run again. Eventually she finds herself at a school teaching English to local children and adults. She makes friends and finally starts to develop a sense of self again.


The second half of the novel I found to be stretching the sense of belief a bit, this 17 year old going around Rio with no funds of her own.

The school she starts working at is a volunteer organization where people come from all over the world to work and help but they pay the school. Ella has no funds, no identification. She got into the programme because one of the residents found her sleeping on the step and was kind to her. Ella managed to talk her way into a position there, despite having no experience. Then all of a sudden her fees are paid off. And another ridiculous twist – the birth mother shows up and has been watching her the whole time Ella has been in Rio. The woman who just got out of prison for helping her serial killer boyfriend find his victims. Urg.

(show spoiler)


To be fair, while it’s stretching my sense of belief, there was a quite uplifting feeling when Ella starts settling into a regular routine at the school she starts teaching at. She’s making friends and you get the sense she loves the job, she’s teaching art which she has a knack for and is really good at working with the children. She’s making friends and learning the local culture and language. Definitely something she could make a future and a career out of. She’s starting to feel grounded again after so much running around and drama.


Then the drama starts again. Oh, and Christian, the boy Ella’s still pining for is the only one from her old life who can find her and is completely understanding when Ella tells him everything that happened.


The plot was interesting enough even though a little silly in parts. And in some parts the writing as weird and repetitive as Ella falls apart. The descriptions of Rio from party town to beaches to slums was brilliant, very atmospheric and easy to picture. The romance with Christian and Ella was just annoying instalove. I did have trouble connecting to the characters. Too much over the top reactions and drama with Ella and everyone else seemed very one dimensional. Something was missing from this one for me.


Thank you to Netgalley and Penguin Random House UK Children’s books for approving my request to view this title.