People who live in the UK might have heard about the YA Book Prize: it's an award for the best UK young adult book and the winner will be announced in March. However, there is already a shortlist with 10 of the best UK YA books of 2014. Up until March, I will read each of these books (one a week) and post a review - I'm reading the books in the same order as the YA Book Prize twitter account is. First up is A Song for Ella Grey by David Almond, which is a week late because I only found the twitter a few days ago.
Sometimes you read a book and you are filled with expectations about the book. You've read on Tumblr how amazing it is, have seen a ton of booktubers talk about it, read about it in the newspaper,.... And sometimes you come to a book with no expectations at all and are completely open to being surprised by a new story.
That was the case for me and A Song for Ella Grey. I'm reading it because it is on the YA book prize shortlist and I must admit that I wouldn't have picked it up if it wasn't on that list. The cover is gorgeous, but the description of the plot is too vague to pull me in.
"I'm the one who's left behind. I'm the one to tell the tale. I knew them both...knew how they lived and how they died."
Claire is Ella Grey's best friend. She's there when the whirlwind arrives on the scene: catapulted into a North East landscape of gutted shipyards; of high arched bridges and ancient collapsed mines. She witnesses a love so dramatic it is as if her best friend has been captured and taken from her. But the loss of her friend to the arms of Orpheus is nothing compared to the loss she feels when Ella is taken from the world. This is her story - as she bears witness to a love so complete; so sure, that not even death can prove final.
Is anyone else reaction "HUH?", because that was mine. It sounds deep for the sake of being deep and I was very confused by Orpheus being dropped in there. Is it my overdose of Greek mythology or is Ella's Orpheus the one that goes down to Hades and tries to save his wife's life?
Ella and Orpheus : your hipster Greek mythology couple
Turns out that Ella's Orpheus is indeed the very cool version of Greek Orpheus. Ella's friends, including Claire the narrator, are on vacation when a young attractive guys shows up and starts playing his lyre so amazingly that everyone becomes entranced by him. Claire calls Ella and she has a conversation with Orpheus over the phone and as most teenagers do, Ella and Orpheus fall madly in love without knowing a thing about each other.
They even want to get married, though Orpheus never stays in one place for long and seems to have some kind of musical magic. Claire is skeptical of the marriage, but decides to play along. Now, if you know the myth of Orpheus, you can probably imagine how the story will end. But not Claire and Ella. While Claire has some sense of rationality, Ella is completely out of this world. It's justified by saying that "Ella is a dreamer", but really she is just naive and kind of stupid. She acts all mature and intelligent, but makes the worst decisions. Ella is the hipster at Starbucks that runs a Tumblr blog about how life should be and how little art there is in the world - in other words, she's pretty annoying. But a perfect match for Orpheus, who could sit next to her and run a similar blog. He's just as "deep" as she is and is Grease's John Travolta for current 13 year olds.
With two such distinctive and strong personality main characters, narrator Claire kind of falls out of the story. Yes, she narrates the story, but it is really the story of Ella. We know little of Claire, besides that we assume she has some romantic feelings for Ella, but I feel like I knew more about Ella. This was a shame, because Claire has so much potential. She is more realistic, stronger and I would have loved to have seen her figure out what her feelings for Ella are and how to deal with it.
David Almond is as amazing as E. Lockhart
However, what saves this book is the amazing writing. I love writing that is compound and straight to the point, like E. Lockhart's. No words are wasted and yet there is so much information in the story. David Almond masters this writing too, meaning that A Song For Ella Grey reads very similarly to We Were Liars. Even though Ella and Orpheus are annoying, the writing is so beautiful that you don't even notice that you don't like them until you put the book down. I for one read this book in one night and just adored it. The writing takes you on such an immense journey that you'll feel like you're in another world completely. And that's what great books do.
So the rating for this book is actually kind of hard. While I was reading it, I was sure I would give it five stars; I loved everything about it. It wasn't until the next morning, when I talked it over with my friend, that I realized that a lot of characters in the book are annoying little hipsters and make really dumb choices. I wish the characters would have been more relatable, because with David's writing, this could have been one of the best books I've ever read. It will have to be another four stars, but I can't wait to read more of David's writing.