Bad Fruit by Ella King – Book review

Bad Fruit blew me away with its powerful and absolutely immersive look at 17-year old Lily’s life. This psychological thriller explores a complex and dark family dynamic: what do you do if the most toxic relationships in your life are with your immediate family?

Opening sentence: Mama rushes at me when I step into the house.

Scratch beneath the surface…

We meet Lily in the summer just before she’s due to start university, she’s secured a place at Oxford – her future looks bright. She lives with her parents in Greenwich, South-East London and has two older siblings: a sister, Julia and a brother, Jacob.

On the surface, Lily’s life looks idyllic but it soon becomes clear that it’s far from that, revealed to us through her unique coping techniques, including the safe space she creates in her attic bedroom:

Here’s where I keep me, in this hole under the floorboards.

Dangerous relationships

Lily’s relationship with her mother is the crux of Bad Fruit. Her mother exerts an unhealthy amount of control over Lily, even forcing her to wear make-up and dye her hair black to look more like her, more Chinese:

Despite everything Mama has done to bring out the Chinese in me, I remain resolutely myself, her whitest child.

However, the foundations of their relationship are crumbling and we’re right there with Lily as she finds out exactly why…

There are some heart-wrenching, awkward and downright weird moments between Lily and her mother that mean you are obsessed with knowing what will happen next:

How many teddies would it take to make Mama feel safe? Tell me and I will buy them, a thousand times over.

During this sticky summer, Lily starts to have disturbing hallucinations or flashbacks and she has to try and work out what’s real and what’s not and if her mother has been lying about her past.

The story also sees Lily develop a friendship with an older man, Lewis, who lives near her. On paper, this is the dangerous relationship but Ella King subverts what is expected when it comes this, heightening the impact of Lily’s relationships with her family.

It all goes back to the roots

Another really engaging thread to this book is Lily’s interest in etymology. As a parallel to exploring her own roots, Lily’s love of the origin of language is woven throughout by giving us lovely descriptions like this:

The Latin root for ‘hallucinate’ is irresistibly beautiful, alucinari, something you would name a Victorian child.

On a personal note, I also loved how it was a love letter to Greenwich Park and Blackheath – my part of London!

I just couldn’t stop reading Bad Fruit, there were more than a few moments where my heart was in my mouth and it’s been a while since I so desperately wanted things to turn out OK for the lead character – but Lily grasped my heart.

Bad Fruit is a truly memorable debut novel. A cleverly layered story of inherited trauma, a complex and damaged family dynamic, identity, trust, growth and a young woman understanding that the hardest thing she can do might just be the thing that saves her.

Highly emotive, sometimes shocking, sometimes uplifting and with a steady and sinister sense of tension that just won’t quit. I’m excited to read more from Ella King.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

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