Run your finger along a shelf of YA books and it won’t take long before you hit one that owes a debt to myth, legend, folklore or fairy tale. Vampires, witches, werewolves, demigods, angels, they’re all there. Probably more of your rehashed fairy tale than updated classical antiquity. And we know what to expect of these stories. We’ll get the thrill of the fantastic, but we’ll also get a degree of logic, of explanation that’s absent from the originals. We’ll be told the rules for turning someone into a vampire, or why Cinderella’s father married her mean step-mother, or what turned the wicked fairy mean. Which is all well and good. I like that sort of thing. But time was when stories didn’t do that, when a vampire was a vampire because it just was and witches had gingerbread cottages just because they did.
In A Song for Ella Grey, David Almond offers us a new version of the classical story of Orpheus and Eurydice. It’s a tale of wild passions that encompasses the very essence of adolescence – the extremes, the single-mindedness, the self-centredness. We don’t get a lot of explanation of what is happening. We don’t get a lot of backstory. We get events, and mood – lots of mood – and atmosphere, and settings – the brilliantly realised Newcastle and the Northumbrian coast. It’s quite beautiful to read: lyrical romantic prose and utter visceral realism. What we get is so very like an old, old story, and so very unlike a piece of modern YA fiction that I wonder what its audience will make of it. Maybe they’ll want more. They’ll want to know why. Me, I loved it.
Shortlisted for the YA Book Prize 2015