Hi everyone! I hope you’re all doing well! The other day I completed my Goodreads reading challenge of reading 100 books this year and this is the fastest I’ve ever done it! At least graduating into a global pandemic and recession was good for one thing…right? My 101st book that I decided to read was a super short one – Orpheus Girl – and I thought I’d give you a few of my thoughts on it!
Title: Orpheus Girl
Author: Brynne Rebele-Henry
Genre: Contemporary, Retelling, LGBT, Young Adult
Synopsis: 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 been forced to hide her feelings for her best friend and true love, Sarah. When the two are outed, 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 escape Friendly Saviors, and to return to the world of the living with her love—only becoming more determined after she, Sarah, and Friendly Saviors’ other teen residents are subjected to abusive “treatments” by the staff.
I went into this book knowing that it would be a tough read, particularly regarding the subject matter, but I was not expecting exactly how tough a read it actually was. The book follows Raya, a closeted teen girl who has been brought up by her grandmother in a rural Texas town after her mother abandoned her when she was just two years old. Raya is completely in love with her best friend Sarah, but one night the two are caught having sex and subsequently outed at a party. The two girls are sent to conversion therapy but like the Greek myths that Raya is obsessed with, she decides to follow the footsteps of Orpheus and get her and the girl she loves out of there.
As I mentioned, I thought this would perhaps be a slightly more light-hearted take on conversion therapy, a bit like The Miseducation of Cameron Post, but I could not have been more wrong, and I completely understand why some people choose not to read this book – when you face enough homophobia in day to day life, why would you want to read about it in your escapism? For me, I was particularly interested in the myth retelling aspect of the book – a retelling of the story of Orpheus and Eurydice. I’m not going to claim I know everything there is to know about Greek mythology – I studied ancient Greek history while I was in France, I’ve analysed Herodotus’ Histories and I’ve translated some of the myths from Latin into French, but I’ve never actually studied the mythology at all. My only knowledge of it is really from reading Madeline Miller’s novels and attempting to read The Iliad. Despite that, I did really enjoy the myth retelling and I thought the way that the author weaved it into the story was so clever! I’m loath to mention any specific parts as the book is so short and I’m scared of spoiling anything, but the roles each character played were just absolutely perfect!
The writing style was, of course, gorgeous, as I’ve come to expect from any writer who is also a poet. You could feel the main characters’ pain hitting you like a wave and yet the story still felt like something beautiful; something so full of hope despite the heavy subject matter. The ending is an open one, which is not something I usually like – I’m a big fan of closure – but I think that it really worked well, and almost subverted the myth which I think was a really great choice on the author’s part.
I really enjoyed the characters too – not only our main characters, Raya and Sarah – but also the other young people who had been sent to the conversion camp. Despite the size of the novel, they all felt really fleshed out, and I could even say the same about other side characters, like Raya’s grandmother, the other teenagers in her town, even those running the conversion camp. I think what Brynne Rebele-Henry has done in such a small amount of pages is absolutely amazing and, despite how hard this book was to read at times, what with the explicit descriptions of shock therapy, it is one that I think I will revisit time and time again.