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A Song for Ella Grey

Review

A Song for Ella Grey

Most great books defy description, and David Almond’s A SONG FOR ELLA GREY is no exception. But as much as I struggle to define this surrealist, lyrical novel in terms of genre or intended age range, I have no trouble describing it in a word: youth. From protagonist Claire’s fierce yearnings for change one moment, constancy the next (can someone say teen angst?) to the titular young woman’s joyous, headlong free fall into first love, A SONG FOR ELLA GREY captures all the uncertainty and exhilaration of the adolescence you wish you had.

The time? Spring break. The place? It’s a difference of opinion. Some might know the bleak, craggy coast as England’s northernmost shoreline, but Claire and her friends insist it’s the sun-bleached villas of Greece. A few thousand calories of pasta later, not to mention enough alcohol to disinfect a severed limb, the teens are clustered around their bonfire, belting their lungs out into the bleak, starry night.

 

That’s when Orpheus shows up. Who is Orpheus, exactly? Six feet of ancient Greece stumbling through modern-day England. The hottest homeless lyre player you will ever meet. When Ella Grey -- daydreamer, hillside philosopher, vintage clothing aficionado --- first hears Orpheus sing, she launches headlong into all the ecstasy and tumult of first love. Not to mention all the heart-wrenching sorrow of last love. Yes, that’s a spoiler, and yes, it should sound that ominous.

 

If you want a modernized myth, look elsewhere. But if you’re searching for a mythicized modern day… A SONG FOR ELLA GREY will entrance you, enthrall you, shred your heart into a million pieces and pull on your heartstrings like they’re saltwater taffy. 

 

You know how when you define a word, you’re not supposed to use the word itself in your definition? Well, I’m about to use a description from A SONG FOR ELLA GREY to describe A SONG FOR ELLA GREY (quick. somebody stop me). Like Orpheus’ singing, Almond’s prose seems to have emerged from “the farthest places of the universe, the depths of time, from the darkest unknown recesses of ourselves.” Claire’s narrative voice, more piercing brevity than linguistic acrobatics, enlivens the simplest of words with longing, heartache and universal significance.

 

If you’re hankering for a modernized Greek myth, don’t pick up a copy of A SONG FOR ELLA GREY. While Almond deftly merges present-day tedium, constraints and banality with the raw emotive power of mythology, it’s the cellphones, laptops and midterms that jar you out of the story and into another world. A singing voice sweet enough to warp the laws of gravity? The underworld lurking beneath Tyneside’s sewage system? I didn’t blink twice at these mythological marvels.

 

If you want a modernized myth, look elsewhere. But if you’re searching for a mythicized modern day, if you long to see “the song of everything, all life, all love, all creation” drown out the brick and busywork of a Tyneside high school, A SONG FOR ELLA GREY will entrance you, enthrall you, shred your heart into a million pieces and pull on your heartstrings like they’re saltwater taffy. As Claire would say, “follow me, one word then another, one sentence then another, one death then another. Don’t hesitate. Keep moving forward.”And don’t look back.

Reviewed by Alison S., Teen Board member on October 15, 2015

A Song for Ella Grey
by David Almond