The Truth and Lies of Ella Black by Emily Barr (first published in 2018 by Penguin Random House)

Seventeen-year-old Ella Black leads a seemingly ordinary life. True, at her fancy private school she doesn’t quite fit in, but Ella's no social outcast either. 

Her best friend’s part of the in-crowd and her fake boyfriend buys Ella a certain amount of street cred. True, there’s some passive-aggressive tension simmering between her parents, but both mom and dad dote on their daughter.

Ella, though, has a dark secret, one that’s always just a step away from shattering the perfect illusion she’s created. A secret that threatens to ruin her life forever. 

Because hidden beneath meek, well-mannered, good-student Ella, lurks Bella—Bad Ella—Ella’s cruel alter ego. And Bella’s fed up with the way Ella's been running the show.

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When Ella’s parent’s whisk their daughter off in the middle of school one day, Ella is certain her secret has been uncovered. 

But once in Rio de Janeiro, it is Ella who uncovers the life-altering secret her parents have been keeping from her.

At the heart of The Truth and Lies of Ella Black lie two secrets: 1) Ella’s secret alter-ego Bella and 2) the truth Ella’s parents have been withholding from their daughter. 

And while the latter gets a significant amount of airtime throughout the book, the root cause of Ella’s inner-demon, Bella — childhood trauma vs. mental illness — remains unclear. The ending hints at something, leaving your mind whirring to connect the dots. 

As a character, Ella is a paradox of inconsistent behavior—yet believable; Ella’s inconsistent actions realistically portray the dichotomous natures of Ella and Bella and their struggle for power.

Insta love features strongly, and if that’s not your thing, you’ve been warned. Trigger warning: animal cruelty.

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Emily Barr is a master at writing vibrant setting descriptions (Rio, here I come!) and vivid depictions of Ella’s inner conflict. 

Themes of identity and nature vs nurture carries through the entire story and at the end there is much left to ponder. A great read if you love a story that plays out between the lines and enjoy filling in the blanks.

Purchase a copy of the book from Raru.co.za.

Read more of Meredith’s reviews on her Instagram account.

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