Review: A Song for Ella Grey by David Almond

14 January, 2016 Reviews 6 comments

I received this book for free from Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Review:  A Song for Ella Grey by David AlmondA Song for Ella Grey by David Almond
Series: Standalone
on October 13th, 2015
Pages: 272
Genres: Paranormal Fantasy, Young Adult
Format: Hardcover
Source: Publisher
Amazon Good BooksBook Depository

Claire and Ella and their friends are bound by ties so strong they seem unbreakable. Then the strange and handsome Orpheus strolls onto the beach, and he sings them all into an astonishing new understanding of themselves. Ella is caught the hardest, fastest, deepest—and Claire feels the pain of looking on.

Sometimes, if you are unlucky, you meet books in your life that make you incoherent with rage. This was not one of them. I mean, it came close but I am perfectly coherent at the moment so it didn’t.

It did make me angry though. For reasons I will elaborate in a moment but first, *waves hand* an introduction of sorts, some context on why I desired to read this novel.

Well. The biggest reason I wanted to read A Song for Ella Grey was because David Almond wrote Skellig which, though not perfect, came pretty close. It was atmospheric, had relatable characters and an ambiguous sort of charm that makes it a book that can be read and enjoyed by people no matter their age and circumstance. So I was pretty sure that I would, if not keel over in joy about, at least appreciate whatever Almond wrote.

If only I had let sleeping dinosaurs lie.

So in case you haven’t heard of the myth (Ovid, right?) of Orpheus, here’s the gist of it: Orpheus’s wife dies, he decides to go into the Underworld to bring her back, he finds her soul and starts leading her back into the upper world, he is told not to look back, he fails, he returns to the upper world wife-less, and the wife is sent back to the Underworld. Cheerful story like that, you can see why people are lining up to retell it and all.

So, Ella Grey plays the tragic role in Almond’s iteration of the story where nearly all the characters are adolescents. The narrator of the story, Claire (poor poor Claire), is Ella Grey’s best friend and lover–at least that is what is implied. They kiss a lot and have a lot of sleepovers though whether sex is something they also enjoy is never explicitly stated. Then along comes Orpheus, the most special snowflake that ever lived. He, without knowing ANYTHING about Ella Grey, sings to her through Claire’s cellphone and somehow pheromones and hormones get conveyed through the satellite and whatever technology is used to connect phones to each other and there is love and unicorns farting rainbows.

So, Ella Grey is convinced that their lurve is true lurve and one day he arrives during school and she walks out of class (these kids seem to have only one class with a guy called Krakatoa (Krokatoa?)) to be with him and next thing you know, they are planning to get married. Claire is asked to give Ella away and


*deep breaths*

Ella Grey is an asshole. She clearly sees and understands how Claire feels about her. Right? The girl calls out Ella’s name while sleeping with another guy so it’s kinda obvious at this point BUT Ella tells Claire that she ‘cannot understand the lurve that I feel for Orpheus unless you fall in lurve like we have.’  And I don’t know what kinda lurve Ella is talking about but I’m thinking it’s the hetero kind? Or maybe not? Because apparently even though they have been friends for over a decade, the love Claire feels for Ella is not as strong as the love Ella and Orpheus share because…? There’s no discussion of their bi-sexuality or any kind of substantial dialogue about Claire’s feelings. I mean, HE SANG TO YOU OVER THE EFFIN CELLPHONE.

*more deep breaths*

Then Ella goes and dies. This is NOT a spoiler. Come on, the book is a retelling of bloody Orpheus. You know she had to kick the bucket. Anyway, ridiculous death is ridiculous and I kinda enjoyed that Ella died ridiculously because heh.

Okay, so super special snowflake goes bananas and tries to find the underworld and makes his attempt to liberate Ella Grey from the underworld and predictably fails. To tell his story, there is a long section about how Claire, a person, is erased and becomes the vessel through which feckin Orpheus speaks. Right. After she is repeatedly told that she cannot understand his love or his bloody amazingness. She is ERASED. Because she is unimportant in the grand scale of things.

That entire section, the story of when Orpheus goes to get Ella Grey, is too long and horrible and I just wanted for it to be over.


There’s this girl, Bianca, who apparently loved Orpheus and bared her tits to him but he wouldn’t even glance at them. Anyway, she walks out of class (yes, Krakatoa’s class, what the heck?) (there’s this HORRIBLE section where the teacher and student have this sexually charged exchange while the rest of the class looks on. He even calls her a slut, like wtactualfuckery?) to go look for Orpheus and finds him but he has turned gay. Or so speculation says…is anyone else offended by this? Because I AM. (Not because of his gayness (if it is indeed that) but because of the way the narrative seems to trivialize the suffering that people with different sexual orientations go through.) *even more deep breaths* Anyway, at the end Orpheus is chopped into pieces by this band of wild women because he is too hot, he is a tease, and because he dared to turn gay…what the actual heck? Oh and Bianca apparently can read eye expressions because Orpheus, just before he is hacked into pieces, is somehow able to emote to her that he loved them all.


/end Spoiler

This book is written in vernacular and Almond tries to write in lyrical prose and maybe even succeeds in some circles but not in mine. In fact, he bliddy well fails in mine. The writing tries too hard; the emotions are aggrandized–actually, there is no sincerity in the emotional drama and all of it felt like superficial fluff.

If you have read it and liked it, we cannot be friends.

Oh, I suppose I should also mention that bloody Orpheus plays the lyre which sounds like nothing in anyone else’s hands except his. A lot of the prose talks about how Orpheus’s music transports these kids out of their lives and is an experience that cannot be duplicated. There are lots of paragraphs about how his playing attracts the leaves, the stones, the ocean, the seals…all living things somehow reacts to Orpheus’s music. Not that I could tell or was convinced.

Skellig was amazing, ya know? So if you have to read a David Almond book, read that one.

Don’t read this. I went through all the pain so you don’t have to. Now I have to go scrub my brain or something.


Nafiza is a misplaced Pacific Islander who loves sunshine, pineapple and flowers. Also, books. She loves books enough that she is working to make that passion into a profession. She is a candidate for a Masters of Arts in Children's Literature and is currently working on a thesis which might be driving her crazy...crazier. She has also perfected the art of speaking about herself in third person.

6 Responses to “Review: A Song for Ella Grey by David Almond”

  1. Amanda

    I’m so sorry you had to read this, but this review was amazing. This line “If you have read it and liked it, we cannot be friends.” made me snort. Will definitely avoid.

  2. Carina Olsen

    Awesome review Nafiza 🙂 But goddamn. This book sounds THE WORST o.O I could never read it. Ahh. You are amazing for being able to finish it 🙂 I shall stay far, far away from this awful book. Sounds so bad o.O Thank you for sharing about it sweetie. <3
    Carina Olsen recently posted…In My Mailbox #220My Profile

  3. Richard W.

    Well, I’m so glad I found this after all the 5 star reviews. I too have enjoyed other books by Almond but this certainly got my goat too. The dialogue is unbelievable, as are most of the (very thin) characters, mainly stereotypes, including the adults. There is some poetic writing but that seems mainly nicked from Ted Hughes’ play for children ‘Orpheus’ written for the BBC Listening and Writing series in the early 70’s. The ending is totally bonkers and, intentionally or not, grossly homophobic. Very much best avoided.

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