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

The Truth and Lies of Ella Black by Emily Barr
Published by Penguin Random House Children’s
Released 11th January 2017
344 Pages

I received this ARC while I was on my work experience at Penguin Random House Children’s, so a big thank you to the team for giving me a copy.

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 discovered Emily Barr last year when I read The One Memory of Flora Banks, which I highly enjoyed. I was desperate and eager to read her next YA novel so when I heard about The Truth and Lies of Ella Black, excitement was one word to describe how I was feeling. When I went on my work experience at Penguin Random House Children’s in December I saw they were working on the book and I was fortunate enough to be given an ARC of it. Being as ecstatic as I was I couldn’t wait to start reading it.

Ella Black seems to the live the life most other seventeen year olds would die for. But she hides who she really is from the rest of the world, fearing what would happen if her true self came out. One day out of the blue her parents take her out of school and whisk her off to Rio de Janeiro. Determined to find out why Ella goes through their things and discovers a life changing secret. Her life has been a lie. Not able to cope Ella runs away into the favelas. There she finds out the truth about the darkest side of herself. 

As you know I was really hyped up about this book and to be honest I ended up feeling disappointed. The plot itself had the potential to be something amazing but there were a few bits that went unanswered. I wanted to see more of Ella’s dark side. It cropped up a lot in the first half of the story but then somehow disappeared towards the ending. It would have also been good to have a few scenes with her parents and how they coped. I was told that Ella Black was a lot darker than Flora Banks and this was one of the reasons I was so excited. However, I didn’t find it that dark at all. I was certainly expecting something different to what I got.

Another thing that I didn’t particularly like was the Insta-Love. It’s the one thing in YA that can really irritate me. Ella fell in love and was borderline obsessed the moment she saw her love interest. This did cause me to roll my eyes. I didn’t find the romance at all believable either if I’m being completely honest. It didn’t add anything to the plot at all and wouldn’t have made a difference if it’d been cut out.

Despite having a few issues, there were a few parts I really did like. I adored the setting! I’d never read a book with Brazil as the main setting before and it was a great change. There must have been a lot of research that went into the setting as I did feel like I was actually there in Rio. The descriptions of everything from the beaches, the bars to the favelas had a way of transporting you to that exact place. I remember getting exactly the same feeling when I read Flora Banks. 

Character development was the other thing that kept me reading on when at times I wanted to give up. Ella, for example. I found her to be irritating and frankly rather annoying when I first started the book. My opinion changed further down the line and I started to accept her and feel sorry for her. She went from a scared, worried girl to a brave young woman. She learnt to embrace herself for who she really is and I love seeing that in YA. Yes, it could be seen as a coming of age cliche but it’s something that can be good if done well.

The Truth and Lies of Ella Black wasn’t what I was expecting and it was disappointing in a few ways. Nonetheless this was made up for by the incredible setting which was so unique to a YA fiction and the character development that happened throughout.


Emily Barr worked as a journalist in London, but always hankered after a quiet room and a book to write. She went travelling for a year, writing a column in the Guardian about it as she went, and it was there that she had an idea for a novel set in the world of backpackers in Asia. This became Backpack, which won the WH Smith New Talent Award. She has since written eleven more adult novels published in the UK and around the world, and a novella, Blackout, for the Quick Reads series. Her twelfth novel, The Sleeper, is a psychological thriller set on the London to Cornwall sleeper train.

 In 2013 she went to Svalbard with the idea of setting a thriller in the Arctic. The book that came out of it was The One Memory of Flora Banks, a thriller for young adults. This was published in 2017. Her latest YA novel The Truth and Lies of Ella Black is out early 2018.

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