Emily Barr’s The Truth and Lies of Ella Black is an incredibly good, tense, page-turner of a book!
I was sucked straight into Ella Black’s world of paranoia, anxiety and confusion. The way Emily wrote this, Ella’s tumultuous and frantic thought processes didn’t let go right until the end of the story; the experience of reading this book was akin to being inside Katniss’ head in The Hunger Games.
Before we go any further, I will say this is definitely a YA book. It isn’t for young readers. There is swearing and a disturbing scene at the beginning involving a cat and a bird which was quite nasty.
Truth and Lies is about a troubled teen called Ella Black. She has a “demon” inside her who seems to take over and rant at her, make her angry and try to persuade her to do things when she’s stressed. Ella has called this side of her personality, Bella Black. And, as a reader, you can really tell when Bella takes over and Ella takes a backseat.
But this character trait is but one part of this cool twist on a coming-of-age story, one that gives the reader a new and visceral point of view on mental health too.
Even though Ella has good friends, she longs to escape her life and go to Brazil. And, one day, when bad Bella seems to be creeping up on her more and more, she gets her wish. Ella’s parents take her out of school and suddenly fly her to Rio.
Ella meets a boy, falls in love, goes on some trips with her parents, and visits areas of Rio she shouldn’t go. Her rebellious side begins to blossom, and it is then she questions why she is here (it certainly isn’t for a holiday). It is at this point, when Ella/Bella does something she regrets, where the book transforms into a voyage of self-discovery.
Ella runs away and experiences the gritty, scary reality of living on the streets and “slums” of Rio. She learns a secret about her life which changes everything – she knows someone from her past is after her, and that she is not who she has always believed herself to be (I can’t go into anymore detail than that otherwise I’ll give too much away!).
This new life she experiences – leaving her parents behind in a Rio hotel – works towards a climactic ending full of emotion. And, although perhaps these last scenes could have been a little more powerful by slowing them down a bit, they did pack a punch. The ending makes it clear how and why Ella/Bella exists in such a two-minded fashion…and the secrets she uncovers are pretty full-on.