Ellie Pillai is Brown


How long can Ellie hold onto the lie, the lie that threatens to blow apart her family? She knows that her mother, particularly, has ambitions for her. After all, her mother achieved despite having neither expectations nor available opportunities. So the thought that Ellie is taking drama for GCSE rather than computer science, is likely to be devastating.

Then again, Ellie’s certain she’s a disappointment all around. She’s one of the few brown-skinned students at her school, and best friends with the school’s ‘it’ girl, Jess. ‘Wherever Jess goes, people look at her’. It seems that Ellie’s either in her shadow, or likely to be called out for being different, or embarrassing. That’s why she hides. It’s why so few people, other than Jess, know about her playlists, her humour, her creativity, and then the backing singers she imagines in so many different situations. It’s also why she’s received a grade 2 for drama in her mock GCSEs. Drama, the subject her parents know nothing about.

Yet, what if this year is the year that the lie explodes? Then again, could this be the year that Ellie declares, Ellie Pillai is Brown, in her introduction to the substitute drama teacher, Mrs Aachara. What’s more, might this be the year that Mrs Aachara sees something in Ellie that has only been hinted at, that we know, and then Ash, the new boy might glimpse too?

The new boy. The perfect boy. The boy who’s surely destined for Jess?

Isn’t it all a pickle? Bookwagon loves and recommends Ellie Pillai is Brown.

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Ellie Pillai is Brown

Christine Pillainayagam

(Faber & Faber)

Ellie Pillai is Brown. It’s how she describes herself when introductions are required during Mrs Aachara’s first drama lesson with her Year 11 class. Then again, it could be something as embarrassing, such as ‘blonde moustache’. After all, it seems as though Ellie’s life is full of pratfalls. It must be the reason why her mother seems so much more at ease with Ellie’s best friend, Jess. Although Jess is ‘the ‘it’ girl’ who has people watching her wherever she goes, Ellie’s happy to fall into her shadow. After all, Jess is her best friend.
However, this year seems different. Not only is it GCSE year, but it’s the year when the lie of drama lessons might be discovered by Ellie’s mother and father. They think she’s taking computer science when all along she’s been taking Mr Grange’s drama lessons…. and failing. Now Mrs Aachara’s leading the class and it seems she’s spotted something in Ellie’s ‘performance’ that even she doesn’t know is present. Or maybe she does, as when she’s dancing around the room, constructing her playlists, or presenting backing groups in her imagination? Then again, maybe when she creates soundtracks that elevate a piece of writing to star standard?
What’s more, it seems that there’s a boy who sees Ellie’s talents too. Yet how is this even possible when there’s Jess who outshines everyone, who seems destined for Ash? Altogether it’s a complete mishmash, isn’t it?
Christine Pillainayagam writes a story for everyone of us who feels ‘different somehow’. What’s more she encourages us to look at each other, appreciate difference and value it. Bookwagon suggests this inspiring, rich and compassionate novel, is an ideal accompaniment to Musical Truth, albeit with the Beatles’ White Album playing in the background.


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