published: 8th October 2019
In her debut novel, award–winning poet Brynne Rebele-Henry reimagines the epic of Orpheus as a love story between two teen girls in rural Texas.
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.
You know, the thing about family is that you can choose it. And I choose you.
Galley provided by publisher
CWs: homophobia, transphobia, suicide attempt, conversion therapy (aversion therapy and electric shocks)
I put off writing this review so that I wasn’t some combination of fuming and heartbroken over this book when I wrote it. Only, every time I think about it, my heart starts aching, so obviously, getting over it isn’t going to happen any time soon. (Also, not fuming in a bad way, more like fuming because of what happens in the book, because it just makes you feel so much.)
Orpheus Girl is a retelling of the Orpheus and Eurydice myth, where hell (death) is conversion therapy, and they’re both lesbians. It’s narrated by Raya, a lesbian teen in a hugely conservative and religious town, who’s in love with her best friend. Then said best friend, Sarah, kisses her, and they start a relationship in secret, risking being found and sent to conversion therapy (which subsequently does happen).
I think the sign of a good book is that it gives you strong emotions (unless it’s you being pissed off at the book, true). And Orpheus Girl did just that. I had to put it down at times because I was so angry at how Sarah and Raya were treated by the people who supposedly loved them and who they should have been able to trust. It’s one of those books that’ll leave you wanting to hit something, you’re so angry. But it also leaves you heartbroken (not because it’s a sad ending, don’t worry). Because it’s about the perpetuation of abuse in a way. Straight people abusing gay people into believing that they’re sinners/immoral/etc, and then the saddest bit, which is that the “cured” gay people go on to continue that abuse on another generation. (And now I want to hit something again.)
Anyway, I’m so glad there was a happy ending, because I don’t think I could have stood having my heart ripped to shreds like that and there not being one.
What I loved about this book was that it talked a lot about how you choose your family. And how you don’t have to forgive your blood family when they abuse you like this. Because a lot of books have found families, and the idea of choosing your family, but not so many that tell you you’re not at all obligated to forgive people who do such terrible things to you. It’s refreshing, to be honest.
Finally, this is a very character-driven book, so obviously the characters had to be sympathetic and compelling. Which, duh, they were. I loved Sarah and Raya and Leon and Clio, and I spent most of the book being really nervous about what was going to happen to them next.
In the end, the only issue I really had with this was that they didn’t burn the conversion therapy centre to the ground before they left.