Young adult novels centered around Greek mythology are very common and have proved to be incredibly popular. However, never in all my years have I seen a book implement Greek mythology in the way David Almond’s, A Song for Ella Grey has. The book, described as “a new novel [that] tells an ancient tale” by the author himself, takes place in northern England and revolves around teenager Claire Wilkinson, her best friend Ella Grey, and their close-knit group of friends. They yearn for freedom from their responsibilities and desire only to truly take advantage of their youth. When the group goes on an outing to the beaches of Northumberland, they encounter the enigmatic Orpheus, a beautiful young wanderer who can play music that seems to make the whole world stop and listen. When Orpheus meets Ella, the two fall so deeply in love that it changes their lives—and their ultimate fate. Claire narrates the emotional, tragic story of Orpheus and Ella, their love, and their deaths.
A Song for Ella Grey bases its events around the well-known Greek folktale of Orpheus and Eurydice, meaning that if you know how that story ends, the book’s plot isn’t entirely a surprise. That being said, it’s not really meant to be—it’s supposed to put a modern twist on an old story. Unlike most “modern retellings” revolving around teenagers, this book doesn’t focus solely around the existence of phones and the Internet as its “modern” component—instead, it focuses on teenagers themselves, their desires, and their longing for freedom. This is a change I can appreciate, and it makes the book stand out. The language is colorful and descriptive, giving the setting a whimsical feel, even though it takes place in the real world (with a few small fantastical elements thrown in). I enjoyed the honest portrayal of the characters and their emotions, and I especially liked the fact that the book, despite being a romance story, has many other themes besides love—nature, music, freedom. The story has a feel that’s hard to describe, but it’s comforting and really makes you feel like you’re in the book’s world. My only real criticism is that, even though the “Greek myth to real world” adaptation is praiseworthy as I mentioned before, I can’t quite understand why Eurydice was changed to Ella while Orpheus still kept his name. It makes things a bit confusing as first, as this book’s Orpheus is a teen and is not really given much of a backstory to differentiate himself from the Orpheus of Orpheus and Eurydice. Regardless, the book’s emotion and language was enough to keep me engaged throughout its entirety. If you’re looking for a short, genuine love/Greek mythology story that isn’t quite as cheesy as books in both of those categories tend to be, this is the book for you.
Submitted by Lauren Leon