Ellie Pillai is Brown

Ellie Pillai is Brown

By Author / Illustrator

Christine Pillainayagam


Romance & Relationships

Age range(s)



Faber & Faber




Paperback / softback




The perfect coming-of-age summer romance by the most spectacularly funny and original debut UKYA voice.

My name is Ellie. Ellie Pillai . . . And I suppose I am a little bit weird, but then, aren't we all, just a little bit?   Most days, Ellie Pillai is somewhere between invisible, and not very cool - and usually she's okay with that. But suddenly, Ellie feels different. Maybe it's the new boy at school who makes her brain explode into rainbows every time she sees him (and also happens to be going out with her best friend), or maybe it's her new drama teacher, the one who seems to have noticed she exists. Suddenly, her misfit style, her skin colour, her songwriting and all that getting lost in the music in her head seem to be okay too. Because maybe standing out isn't a bad thing after all.   'I adored this.' Simon James Green, author of Alex in Wonderland. 'Warm, funny and hopeful.' A M Dassu, author of Boy, Everywhere.

Find out more in this video and Q&A with author Christine Pillainayagam

See also:  Ellie Pillai is (Almost) in Love



I thoroughly enjoyed meeting Ellie Pillai! She is such a likeable mid teen with the usual hang ups about herself, learning how she fits in at school, with friends, at home, discovering the complications of being attracted to someone already spoken for, and slowly becoming more confident through drama.

Ellie's struggles with her identity resonate as the author draws you into her world. This book is difficult to put down as you become connected to the main character and I found myself hoping for only good things to happen. However, it is through the challenges of teenage life that Ellie begins to find herself, making this an extremely relatable book for upper school students.

The author, Christine Pillainayagam, has written a cracking debut YA book threaded through with popular musical references which I particularly enjoyed. She also uses the book to showcase her own talents as there is a downloadable album with tracks reflecting the chapter themes throughout the book, accessible by scanning the liberally spread QR codes. This makes it an even more enjoyable read as you feel further immersed into Ellie's world. Interspersed with excerpts of song lyrics and with the catalogue at the back, this becomes a multi-sensory experience. In addition the book's cover is beautifully illustrated by Trisha Srivastava making it an eye catching front facing book for dynamic library shelving plus pretty pink edges and mini pics for extra attractiveness.

A great addition to a school YA collection and one that is sure to prove a popular loan!

464 pages / Reviewed by Ruth Cornish, school librarian

Suggested Reading Age 14+


Ellie Pillai is Brown is the debut YA novel from Christine Pillainayagam. It is a powerhouse of a coming-of-age story that is funny, charming and thought provoking.

Ellie is not one of the cool kids in school. Her friends are cool, but she’s not that girl, in fact most of the time she goes about her life invisible to the rest of the school. Things begin to change for Ellie on the run up to her GCSEs.  A new drama teacher notices she has a real talent for music and encourages her to use it. But Ellie is crippled with shyness. How can she overcome this and perform to an audience?  

Whilst Ellie is trying to overcome her insecurities, new boy Ash joins the school. He is extremely handsome, slightly older, and happens to be the boyfriend of Ellie’s best friend Jessica.  However, Ellie and Ash find themselves drawn to each other. They have experienced things which they can both relate to, and both have a real passion for music. As their friendship grows so do their feelings for each other. Making matters worse, Ellie has also lied to her parents about her GCSE subjects and sooner or later they will find out. What could possibly go wrong?

From the outset we are routing for the protagonist and the narrator of the story Ellie. We really do understand her as she tries to navigate her way through her GCSE year. We understand that she is desperate to be her authentic self, but how can she do this without upsetting her family and friends?

I really enjoyed reading Ellie's journey. It is filled with all the things that teenagers go through as their rite of passage growing up. Trying to figure out who they are and what they really want. I liked that the book reflected real life. It didn't gloss over the tragedies and predicaments that many young people have to go through. I also liked the supporting cast of characters that Pillainayagam has created in the book as they really enhanced the story. There are also some very funny moments in the book which gives the novel real heart.

One thing that is absolutely brilliant about Ellie Pillai is Brown is the music. I know that YA readers will absolutely fall in love with the songs that accompany the book. I found the whole idea of using QR codes throughout the book to connect to Ellie's playlist absolutely genius! Ellie finds expressing her true emotions very hard, but by using music she can express her feelings more openly.  Each song reflects Ellie's feelings at the time. Whilst reading I couldn't wait to come across another QR code so that I could listen to the music too. It really did enhance the story and I am sure readers will absolutely love this element of the book.

Ellie Pillai is Brown is brilliant, bold, hilarious and unique.  If you love romance novels with real-life drama and heart, then this is the book for you. Definitely a must for your YA summer reading list.

458 Pages / Reviewed by Julie Broadbent, school librarian

Suggested Reading Age 14+


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