A Song for Ella Grey by David Almond – review

Read Sara El-Khamlichi’s Guardian young critics 2015 award-winning review

The tragic myth of Orpheus and Eurydice is one of the most famous and beloved Greek myths, focusing on human love, the extremes we will go for love, as well as human weaknesses. Yet by creating a high-school, teenage take on it, wouldn’t some of the meaning, the poignancy be lost? It is here that David Almond proves us wrong. In this poignant page-turner we are taught to find freedom in life, in love. To be wild, adventurous, daring. To relish In in first love. To forget about “anticipated grades and adjusted grades and passes and fails and averages and stars and all the stupid, boring, bliddy stuff that stops us being us.”

A Song for Ella Grey
Photograph: PR

Narrated by 16-year-old Claire, the novel follows the tale of her best friend Ella Grey, a beautiful, dreamy girl who relishes in the freedom of youth and lives in her daydream. Prevented from going on an excursion to the coast with her friends which they had been planning for months due to her poor grades, Ella is left behind in her dreary, boring world. But it is on the excursion that Claire and her friends meet Orpheus, a lad with a voice that sounds like rolling pebbles, the wind and all of natures beauty. Ella hears his voice over the phone. And instantly falls in love.

I love how the tension of the book increases, the suspense builds. The lyrical way Almond writes, each sentence poetically gliding from one sentence to the other, perfectly highlights the ancient background to this novel. As the story becomes deeper and darker, the writing becomes more sincere and filled with sorrow, yet it retains its beauty and continues to glide with emotion. It captivated me as I followed the tragic tale of these two teenage lovers.

As the love between Ella and Orpheus increases, Claire becomes more possessive over Ella, she is heavy-hearted at the thought of losing Ella. She tries to convince Ella that what she is feeling is merely infatuation, not true love. But her efforts are in vain, since on the next excursion to the coast, the couple have a mock wedding and their love increases daily. However, there are adders lurking in nearby dunes...

For those of you familiar with Greek mythology, the outcome of this may seem inevitable yet even without the background knowledge, you will relish in the rich description. You will simply be unable to put this novel down.

However, they say nothing is perfect therefore I must make one criticism. The ending is too sudden, too rushed for my liking. A couple more pages of Almond’s gripping, lyrical description so that the reader can picture and linger on the final tragic scene would have made it feel less hurried.

Despite this, I think that this book is not just a “book”, but a literary masterpiece.

David Almond’s A Song for Ella Grey, winner of the Guardian children’s fiction prize 2015, is available from the Guardian bookshop.

Congratulations to Sara El-Khamlichi, aged 12, for her Young Critics award 2015-winning review.

Young critics
Sara El-Khamlichi

The GuardianTramp