Laura Sieveking, New Girl (Ella at Eden #1), Scholastic Australia, February 2020, 192 pp., RRP $15.99 (pbk), ISBN 9781743834930
Following on from Ella Diaries, Ella at Eden is the latest series in the Ella and Olivia world. Cleverly written by Laura Sieveking, this exciting and engaging tale charts Ella’s first months at Eden College, a very exclusive girl’s school. With new friends and old, Ella is soon knee deep in a mystery.
I haven’t read any of the other books in the Ella and Olivia world, but I was instantly taken with this sweet novel. Ella at Eden is aimed at readers over 9 years of age, but the author has used sophisticated vocabulary and seamlessly included definitions. When my daughter was in late primary school, she was able to read at an adult level, but she despaired of finding books that suited. She wanted sweet, innocent books with brave and heroic characters, and she wanted books that provided an intellectual challenge. As I was reading Ella at Eden, I would show my daughter excerpts and each time her response was, ‘where was this book when I needed it?’ The only way the author could improve this would be to offer hints on pronunciation. I also liked that the writer’s style allowed the reader many opportunities to speculate or hypothesise about events as they unfold in the book, this is an important skill for young readers.
My only concern about Ella at Eden was the romanticisation of boarding school. Whilst the author attempted to convey the experience of loneliness, and homesickness and some of the other challenges that boarding can present, this was heavily outweighed by midnight feasts, instant warm friendships, and quaint dorm rooms. I imagine that young girls reading this would be thoroughly disappointed by the real-life experience of Australian boarding schools.
Overall, I would highly recommend this book for primary school aged readers. Best of all, it is the first in the series which means there are many more adventures to come.
Reviewed by Anne Varnes