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Missing Ellen by Natasha Mac a’Bháird

Writing.ie | Young Adult

By Margaret Madden, BleachHouseLibrary.Blogspot.ie

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Best friends since junior infants, Maggie and Ellen do everything together. Just like most teenagers they have sleepovers, go to the local teen disco, share clothes and make-up and rarely think further into the future than the following weekend. All this changes when Ellen’s father leaves the family home and shatters the family’s existence. Ellen struggles with the change and Maggie watches as her friend spirals out of control, unable to help her. A new older boyfriend means Ellen moves in different circles and while Maggie continues on with her school work in the run-up to exams, Ellen seems more interested in the worlds of bars, nightclubs and booze. The girls friend, Liam, is the only other person who can see Ellen’s deterioration and Maggie wonders how her recently absent friend would feel about the new closeness between Liam and herself…

This YA novel explores the boundaries between childhood and adulthood. There are many books about this period in a teenagers life, but not all of them get it right. There are moments when a young woman changes, not only physically, but mentally too. These moments can be hard to pin down, usually blurring the instances of first love, sexual awakening or desire for independence. Natasha Mac a’Bháird has taken an ordinary friendship, in an ordinary town, added in the (now common) separated parents and shown how a young, happy girl can become so unhappy that she becomes almost unrecognisable, to even her best friend.

The departure of her father, and the new woman in his life, affects Ellen a lot more than she lets on. Her mother is in the depths of despair and is therefore not available to notice the change in Ellen. However, Maggie can see it. She tries to reason with her friend, but she is too angry, too bitter and is too far gone. Unusually, the school that the girls attend seem unaware of anything untoward and Maggie struggles to contain Ellen’s wild side. The novel starts at the end; Ellen is gone and Maggie is writing her feelings down, diary style, sharing her dreams that Ellen is off somewhere having a ball. The writing is undercut with loneliness and guilt, with Maggie feeling uneasy about moving on without Ellen around. The author slowly reels in the reader, through clever technique and limited characters, meaning that the story of Ellen becomes part of our world, our narrative. There us a gaping hole in Maggie’s world since Ellen left, but the beginning of that hole began with a crack. This novel shows how the smallest crack can become a serious fracture if not treated with care.

This talented Irish author has written a wonderfully moving read, not reliant on pulling at heart strings, like many YA books do. It tells a story, one that could have had many different endings. Just like real life…

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