Review: The Truth and Lies of Ella Black by Emily Barr

Title: The Truth and Lies of Ella Black
Author: Emily Barr
Publisher: Penguin Random House UK Childrens
Format: E-ARC from Netgalley
Publication Date: 11th January 2018 (UK)
Rating: 3.5/5 Stars


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 . . .


I received an uncorrected advanced reader copy of this book from the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for a fair and honest review. This has not influenced my opinions, or the content of this review in any way.

Trigger/Content Warnings

This is a dark book, and it covers some dark topics, below I have listed everything I can think of that you may find upsetting and or triggering, so you will be able to decide whether or not this book is for you. I have not brought up context here, but I may discuss some of these in further detail (without spoilers) in my review below.

Animal Abuse/Death, Self Harm, Suicide, Murder, Miscarriage.

My Thoughts

To be honest I have very mixed thoughts about this book. In some ways it was just like I expected, while in other ways, it was much darker. There is an incident in the first chapter, for example, the main character kills a small bird with a hammer. It came out of nowhere, as an introduction to the Ella’s dark side, and it made me feel physically sick. To be honest I considered putting the book down right there and then, because it was very upsetting. But I decided to give it a second chance and kept reading, and things did get a bit better, Ella feels sickened by the actions of her dark side. That scene was written for shock value, to let you know how dark the character can be, but I feel like that probably could have been handled in a better, less horrific way.

The first chapter carries the header “40 Days until she dies”, and the following chapters are counting down. This generates the sense that the story is building up to a dramatic conclusion and did help to keep me engaged. As the countdown continued the tension grew. It also gave me a good idea of how much time was passing, and the overall time line for the story, which I appreciate.

Ella was an incredibly interesting main character, even if she isn’t always likeable. She’s a very internal person, thinking things through a lot, this means that you always understand her motivations and thought processes. Her actions weren’t always the smartest choice, she’s flawed and young, but her reasoning always made sense, which made her easier to follow. She’s troubled, that much is clear, at the start of the book she’s bullied, has a hard time fitting in, and has difficulty trusting people. The character development she goes through over the course of the story is pretty remarkable. It’s one of my favourite aspects of this book. Her situation is extreme, but she learns a lot about her self, and grows a lot as a person.

This really is Ella’s book, her story, and as such all the other characters are very much secondary, and don’t receive much development. The exception to this is her parents, who are quite an important part of this book. Ella’s relationship with them is explored in-depth over the course of the book, including the distance she puts between herself and them in order to protect them from her dark side.

One thing that really annoyed me about this book was that it features a major case of insta-love. When I say major, she makes eye contact with a boy and says hello, and it’s like all she can think about for the rest of the day. She’s met him twice and is calling it love despite the fact that they know next to nothing about each other. They barely exchange two sentences before they kiss. There is no chemistry, because honestly, they don’t interact enough for that, and the whole thing felt forced and unrealistic.

At times towards the middle this book dragged on, and a found myself getting impatient for the story to progress. However, there are a lot of subtle clues in some of those scenes that make the conclusion of this book all the more satisfying. Because that’s another thing I really liked about this book, the conclusion was really strong, and the last 20% of the book had me completely gripped.

Overall this book is not perfect, I had a few issues with the pacing, certain scenes went too far, and the insta-love was just really frustrating. But, Ella’s character development was fascinating, the mystery plot was really well handled, and the thriller aspect had me completely gripped. If you like a young adult mystery thriller, then this is a good one, but it’s not for the faint of heart, some scenes are disturbing, and as I mentioned above, there’s that pesky insta-love. After reading this, I am interested to read some of Emily Barr’s other works, and I hope to pick up The One Memory of Flora Banks soon.

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