Orpheus Girl by Brynne Rebele-Henry
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Abandoned by a single mother she never knew, 16-year-old Raya—obsessed with ancient myths—lives with her grandmother in a small conservative Texas town. For years Raya has hidden her feelings for her best friend and true love, Sarah. When the two are caught in an intimate moment, they are sent to Friendly Saviors: a re-education camp meant to “fix” them and make them heterosexual. Upon arrival Raya vows to assume the mythic role of Orpheus to save them both and to return them to the world of the living, at any cost.
In a haunting voice reminiscent of Sylvia Plath, with the contemporary lyricism of David Levithan, Orpheus Girl is a mythic story of dysfunctional families, first love, heartbreak—and the fierce adolescent resilience that has the power to triumph over darkness and ignorance.
Warnings: homophobia (use of homophobic slurs, transmisia and misgendering, forced outing, religious condemnation), mentions of self-harm and suicide, physical torture (including electroshock therapy), parental abuse
A retelling of the Greek myth of Orpheus, centering two lesbian teens and their confinement at a conversion therapy center, Orpheus Girl is a raw and powerful story of standing strong in the face of hate. As mentioned in the warnings above, this story contains material that may be triggering for some, as it doesn’t hold back from showing how much hatred and bigotry they face, and recounts Raya’s experience in all its shades. Drawing parallels between the original myth in terms of plot beats as well as characters, the story starts shortly before Raya’s and Sarah’s outing to their respective families. Sent to the same center, Raya vows to save herself and Sarah, but the place is one they cannot easily escape from. And while they are there, they increasingly face condemnation, threats and bodily harm. She talks about the loneliness of being queer, the fear of discovery, the constant paranoia, internalized homophobia, the suffocation of living in a devout Christian community and the acceptance that some minds cannot be changed, and that you can choose your family.
This was the first novel I read that featured conversion therapy in so much detail and while I knew of it, I was horrified by it. The realistic portrayal and the intimate writing style lend to a deeper immersion into the story, but the writing can also come off as a bit of ‘scattered thoughts being put together’ while the plot is happening. Like, Raya starts to describe the present scene and then suddenly meanders describing something in the past, or something that reminded her of something; it sometimes took me away from the moment, and them being repetitive meant it was rehashing the same things over and over. As for characterization, it did a good job with some major characters, but a lot of the minor characters felt superfluous.
Overall: it was a heart-wrenching read.
Is it diverse? Has majorly queer characters, including protagonist and her love interest who are lesbians, and a minor trans boy character
Received an advance reader copy in exchange for a fair review from Soho Teen, via Edelweiss.
Releases on October 8, 2019