A Song for Ella Grey

A Song for Ella Grey by David Almond


A lyrical teenage love story inspired by the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice. Set in the urban landscape and coastal headlands of the North East of England, David Almond brings his legendary storytelling to this heart-breaking tale, giving it the intoxicating urgency and absolute beauty he is so admired for.

“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.

A Song for Ella Grey
David Almond
Publisher: Hachette Children’s Books
Publication: October 2014
Genre: Retelling, Mythology, YA
I received this title for free in exchange for an honest review
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A Song for Ella Grey by David Almond

A modern retelling of the Orpheus and Eurydice myth, “A Song for Ella Grey” does a decent job of presenting the myth to a young adult audience in a contemporary setting. However, Almond takes a gigantic risk in utilizing a strong north English dialect for the characters’ speech; a risk that ultimately fails as it the effect quickly tires for non north English readers.

The beginning part of the book is by far the strongest point. Almond hooks readers in immediately, informing us that there will be two deaths. He then gives us the fulcrum of the novella, one of the confirmed dead running away with a boy she’s never met in person before. With those two tidbits provided, the focus then switches back to the beginning as he has the narrator, Claire, begin to unwind the events that led to the demise of Ella.

Were this a simple, straightforward contemporary retelling, “A Song for Ella Grey” may have been fantastic, and would definitely have received more than the two star rating I’m giving it. Even with the dialect writing, the story of Ella and Orpheus was done well. Unfortunately, Almond splices through the myth with large sections of existentialist ramblings that detract from the main theme, the main story, and only work at boring the reader. I’m all for existential crises, but I don’t want to reread the same issues of self awareness every few pages when I am supposed to be reading a simple retelling. Especially when the two halves of the book, the myth and the existentialism, never seem to connect or even highlight one another. I was incredibly tempted to give “A Song for Ella Grey” a one star rating, but my love for the myth bumped it up to two. I also do think that there are some that would enjoy the novella, but mostly that would be a small niche audience of fifteen year olds in North England.

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About Lulu

Thirty-something year old educator based in New York, Lulu loves books, blogging, gaming, and her pom son Frodo Barkins with whom she shares her life. Book reviews specialize in all kinds of fantasy, some YA, some romance, and some contemporary, especially in the gothic genre.