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Ella on the Outside ISBN: 9781788000338
Howe, Cath
Published by Nosy Crow, 2018
Ella has a terrible secret about her family, and as she has just moved far from her best friend and is starting a new school, she is full of qualms. Added to these problems, she suffers seriously from eczema and knows that this means making new friends will be difficult; red itchy arms and hands are not pleasant to look at. Mum has ordered her new school uniform, but unfortunately it hasn’t yet arrived. Mum has also asked her not to reveal the family secret, which puts more pressure on Ella. The book is divided into chapters, between which are letters that Ella writes to her Dad in some mysterious place far away. It is some time before we find out he is in prison – for three years – and that this is the reason Mum has decided to move away from their previous home and to get a new job. When Ella meets Lydia, the ‘most popular girl in the class’ she is at first very happy when Lydia makes gestures of friendship, but even then, she is slightly suspicious of the motives behind this sudden development. In fact, Lydia is a bully par excellence and makes her ‘friends’ do the things she desires, including giving away any family secrets. Friend spies on friend, and it isn’t long before Ella has let the cat out of the bag about her dad. Meanwhile, Ella has met Molly, a quiet girl who seems very unfriendly, and there is another secret about what is going on in Molly’s house. Why is the house full of old furniture, and why does Molly’s mum look like a ghost? It is some time before Ella learns the truth, which she has been told to do by Lydia – Molly’s mum is very sick with both depression and pneumonia, and Molly has been looking after her for a long time, trying to get her better. Things work out in the end, and Molly and Ella become close friends. Neither is ever going to be ‘one of the gang’ with Lydia or anyone else, but as a ‘pair person’, Ella knows that she and Molly will always be good friends, and one is all she needs. Lydia’s methods are insidious and quite awful, and she is such a convincing bully that it isn’t hard to see why she manages to control people the way she does. There is hope for happiness at the end because even Ella’s mum has begun to see that her dad is a good man underneath the wrong he has done, and Ella and she will visit him at Christmas. Ella’s eczema figures prominently. Hard hitting and very readable, this novel will appeal on a number of levels.
Age: 10+