Gabrielle Prendergast’s sophomore YA novel is aptly named, both for the fierce spirit of its narrator, Ella, and the choice to tell her story entirely in verse.
Prendergast delights in wordplay that fits Ella’s smarty-pants teen girl persona. “Whitmore, the bus reads. / With more what, I think / Dyslexically.” Generally, the verse bolsters character (though the acrostic form, occasionally employed here, can be cringe-worthy no matter how well it is executed). The verse also allows Prendergast to take a jagged, piecemeal approach to telling Ella’s story, a sort of diary structure that feels intimate and believable and helps bond readers to the initially prickly protagonist (Ella is troubled, bullied, witty, and a tiny bit bratty). The refusal to stick to one particular style, form, or rhyme scheme is an apt reflection of Ella’s tumultuous teenage state.
Perhaps the most pleasant surprise is the novel’s tight plot. The pages fly by as Ella’s home, school, and romantic lives all go supernova at the same time. Having recently moved to a new town, Ella’s mother is unable to find work and is soon throwing up after meals, growing dangerously thin. Kayli, Ella’s sister, suffers from severe asthma, and their father refuses to acknowledge the chaos in his own family. A daring art piece by Ella sparks political, legal, and social repercussions beyond anything she could have foreseen, and her love interest, a cute brown-eyed barista, turns out to be a Muslim struggling with his faith.
In Audacious, Prendergast asks concrete questions about faith, art, and politics that are sometimes avoided in YA. Her gamble pays off. In Ella, Prendergast has created a voice that is definitely audacious – but also utterly real and memorable.