Cover Image: Orpheus Girl

Orpheus Girl

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Member Reviews

I was very excited to read this book because of the amount of representation it would have and I was certainly not disappointed on that front. The author's writing style was enjoyable to read as well but I did have a problem with a few of characters who didn't seem as fleshed out as they could have been. And for a person who values compelling and believable characters more than anything, this is always a major point.
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I can't find the file on my kindle, so I can't review this one since it got archived too early and I didn't get a chance to read it yet.
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Thank you to Netgalley, and the publisher for this eARC in exchange for an honest review. Orpheus Girl is an ultimately sad, but beautiful story of two gay teen girls in Texas, constantly hiding who they are to the world. The arch of the story in which they are outed, and sent to the same conversion camp, and plan a scheme to escape. The wonderful things I enjoyed about the story was the way in which it really hits home the concept of chosen family, and how many LGBTQ kids have to constantly think about how they are being perceived in the world -- it is exhausting. Though I thought the story the author was aiming to tell was a great one, one that needs to be shown, and read to understand the horrors of conversion camps and the betrayal of families of LGBTQ youth, something was just missing. The story was much too short, and too conveniently put together. The backstory felt haphazard (the mother, the entire school setting) we weren't given enough time to fall in love with Raya and Sarah before they were "found out". I felt the story jumped around too much from the present to whatever Raya was poetically thinking in her head for the reader to get a real emotional grasp of what was happening. Overall, I would give the novel 3 stars, as it is an important read, the writing is poetic and very beautiful for even such a hard topic, and I was rooting or all the kids in the camp. I hope the author goes on to write more LGBTQ representational work in the future.
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TW: Homophobia, Forced Outing, Absent Parents, Conversion Therapy, Transphobia, Attempted Suicide, Incorrect Pronoun Use

I’ve noticed this book has started getting three star reviews from the straights but I guess that’s to be expected with f/f romances and them these days. I just don’t understand how anyone can see this story as anything less than impactful. One of the biggest complaints I’ve seen is that people think this is too short which I heavily disagree with. First of all, who would want to read a full, four hundred paged book where we have to read about such a tragic topic. I also feel that the short and two the point nature was far more impactful than just drawing the story out. It was just so well put together.

Abandoned by a single mother she never knew, sixteen-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 finally 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 mythical role of Orpheus to save them both and return them to the world of the living, at any cost.

One of my favorite parts of this book is the found family aspects. Raya meets two people who had also been sent to the camp, along with her girlfriend Sarah, who she chooses to be her family. I really think more YA books need to have a discussion on how you don’t have to forgive family for abuse just because they are blood. Raya was raised by her grandmother who she never truly had a connection with, and who sent her off to conversion therapy, and she didn’t forgive her for it! It was great.

I loved all of the characters in this book. The main characters have so much chemistry with each other and I love how their romance was shown to be built up from childhood. Many f/f romances are rushed and lack a spark but this was just so well built up and believable. The other characters, Leon and Clio, were also great. Leon was just so sweet and Clio was really sassy and wonderful. This is a character driven story despite all of the plot in this so it is important that the characters are likable and they were.

This book made me feel genuine dread. When Raya and Sarah were caught in a compromising situation and it was building up to the point where everyone would find out I was so anxious. This is part warning and part praise for the story. The author does a really good job describing everything in perfect detail to perfectly encapsulate the story. This can be really difficult for some readers, especially LGBT+ people, to read, even if you don’t have experience with a similar situation. This is very fast paced so you will move through these parts quickly but the electrotherapy is pretty graphic.

This is just a really, really great and powerful read. If you are worried about reading this without knowledge of Greek mythology you don’t need to be. I wasn’t familiar with the tale of Orpheus and it’s explained in the book and there’s no other parts specifically requiring mythological knowledge. This isn’t a light or humorous read but it also wasn’t horribly depressing while still going into the seriousness of conversion camps. I’d recommend this read to anyone who can handle it because it’s an incredibly meaningful story that more people need to know.
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I enjoyed this book and how different it was from many other current YA titles.  The writing was raw and sparse and really impactful.  While I didn’t connect to the links to mythology as well as I hoped I would, I still appreciated those references.  I think many of the teens I work with will identify with these characters and connect with their stories.  I think it’s an important addition to YA queer fiction.
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I had to do a lot of research on this before diving in so that I knew what I was going into. This focuses on conversion therapy and in my opinion wasn't handled well. It's Texas, it's conservative bible belt area, I get it, but much like Girls on the Verge, these things get blown out of proportion and stereotypes groups of people.
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I was so excited for this book. It sounded like something I would adore. But I guess you can feel it coming: I didn’t enjoy this book. I obvisously have quite some things I didn’t like about it, but I’ll start of with the elements that I did like.

First of I loved the influence of mythology. I’ve always been really interested in mythology, but never really read a lot of it. So this book was also a perfect opportunity to learn more about mythology, especially Greek myths. I also liked how the main character loved myhtology and compared her own life to the Orpheus myth. It was also nice to have the appendix at the end of the book which listed all the important characters and who they were inspired on.

I also liked the length of this book: it was short, but also fast paced which was great. But, and now we are getting into the elements I didn’t like, quite some parts of the story felt a bit rushed as well, due the length I suppose. Next to that, and I don’t know if that’s influenced by the length or not, there were also so many jumps between present and past and it was never quite clear. Especially at the beginning of the book I had a hard time knowing if it was the present or the past because the author seemed to switch almost every paragraph. It really just felt like the author had written down the story she wanted to tell, but then never properly structured it.

Character wise I didn’t really feel anything special for or against the characters. So I wasn’t a fan of the characters, but I also didn’t dislike them. The only character I actually liked was Leon, because he reminded me of a friend of mine. But unfortunatly I did have some issues with the main character. At first I was really convinced that she was around 12 years old. She felt so young to me, so I was quite shocked to discover that she was actually meant to be 16. Up until the point she was sent to conversion therapy I really thought that she was 12 years old. And even from that point on I would have never guessed her to be older than 14.

Another thing about the characters that I didn’t like was the relationship between Raya, the main character, and Sara. At first I thought they had only kissed each other a couple of times, that was really what the author made you believe. But then once they were in conversion therapy they had had a relationship for years and I just didn’t believe that either.

Another point that felt unbelievable to me was that Sara’s parents and Raya’s grandmother decided to send them to the same conversion therapy camp, even though they had a ‘relationship’. It would have made so much more sense to send them to different camps.

Going back to Raya. Now that I’m thinking about it, I really disliked almost everything about her. Anyway, another thing that I actually, like, hated about Raya was how she portrayed straight people different from gay people. At a certain point she was talking about trying to mimick the way “straight people sway their hips when they walk”. As if you can determine someone’s sexuality by the way they sway their fucking hips. And then what about bi people, or pan people, or ace people, or trans* people? Do all of them walk like the gays, or like the straights, or do they have their own special way of walking? As you can tell this really infuriated me. And there were other things like this where the author portrayed, through Raya, that all the gay people did something in the same way and all the straight people then did that in another way.
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this is a sweet, sad story, and I love that it's a quick read. I think this will definitely find its audience.
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this book was SO FRICKING COOL! I'm not a big fan of retellings but this one was just beautiful! we need more f/f books such as this one! so glad i got to read this book!
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I'll start off by saying that this book is fantastic. It does have parts of it that are hard to stomach and hard to read so be warned if you are sensitive to that before you read it. But that being said, I really did adore this book. It's told from the perspective of Raya, who is 16 and lives with her grandmother after her teen mom abandons her when she was only 2 years old. I really like that you can clearly see how much Raya craves her mom's love and attention. She just wants her mom to love her and it really breaks my heart to read. Raya has a best friend Sarah who she is in love with. After they are found and outed they are sent to a conversion camp called Friendly Saviors to re-educate them into becoming heterosexual. I don't want to spoil large plot points but they end up trying to escape this place and runaway together. 
I really enjoyed this book. I know a lot of queer books are about pain and sadness but I felt like this book did a great job of showing that aspect as well as hope too. That it's not all horrible and there is a light at the end of the tunnel. I would highly recommend this book and I will definitely be getting a copy for myself.
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I wanted to love this, but it was far too short to feel really developed, and honestly seemed like a weak retelling of my favorite myth of all time. Stories like this are important, but I just don't think this was the right one for me.
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This book shows homophobia but it also shows hope. There's also this great metaphor about LGBT people finding their wings.I highly recommend!
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At the beginning of Orpheus Girl, sixteen year-old Raya lives in Pieria, Texas with her grandmother. After she and Sarah are caught kissing, they are sent to Friendly Saviors, a conversion therapy camp. There, Raya becomes Orpheus, bent on escaping with Sarah, her Eurydice. The novel, Brynne Rebele-Henry’s first, will be published by Soho Teen. It comes to 176 pages and will be released on October 8, 2019. 

The trouble with writing a review of this book is that  every other review uses the word “haunting” – a descriptor I also would like to use. Rebele-Henry is known for her raw depictions of queer girlhood (see her poetry collections, Autobiography of a Wound and Fleshgraphs), but Orpheus Girl is truly on its own level. She provides a heartbreaking discussion of how Raya has to “pretend to be like the other girls with their bright, glittery hungers,” studying magazines to learn how not to get outed. 

Sometimes, this unique rawness gives way to something too intense, which is difficult to stomach when reading about abuse against children, knowing that these camps are real. This is a book that hurts to read. 

Everything feels incredibly deliberate, orchestrated in such a way that a déluge of details and references isn’t overwhelming. Raya educates herself on myths after her mother leaves to “go be Aphrodite in the TV.” Jean, a girl Raya knew at Bible camp, is described as “some kind of Artemis, a gay girl warrior.” Alongside a helpful glossary, Rebele-Henry provides details like this, and some referential names, to guide the reader through the novel, not just as a standalone work, but as a clever reimagining of the Orpheus myth. 

The Orpheus and Eurydice myth first appeared in Virgil’s Georgics, and, later, Ovid’s Metamorphoses. In it, the half-Muse musician Orpheus – whose skill was renowned across the land – is enamored with a woman, Eurydice. When a fateful accident kills her on their wedding day, Orpheus travels to the underworld with his lyre, touching Hades, Persephone, and the other figures of the shadowy realm with his song. 

They allow him to bring Eurydice back up to Earth – on the condition that he does not look back at her before both leave the territory of the Underworld. When Orpheus steps into the light of the upper world, he glances back, but Eurydice has not yet crossed the threshold, and she fades into the darkness. 

Rebele-Henry’s fluid prose reflects its classical roots in even more subtle ways: Raya’s mother leaves in early childhood like a Greek god. Although she leaves after having Raya as a teenager, she is still part of a legacy of disappearing girls and women, all of whom vanish after some perceived deviancy. Rebele-Henry evokes Atalanta as a disappearing queer girl, an ancestor to Raya and Sarah. It is clear to any young LGBTQ+ person that, sad as it may be, pain is often a part of the queer experience. 

That said, I think it’s also important to tell queer stories that don’t romanticize the suffering that so often accompanies our journeys. Orpheus Girl is a testament to true love and resiliency, but it’s also a gorgeous, sharp-edged story that sometimes cuts too deep. 

Besides its literary merit, Orpheus Girl stands out because it’s a young adult novel written by a young adult person. Brynne Rebele-Henry was born in 1999, and I think that shows in her novel. Obviously, she’s talented – but it’s also because nobody else writes the way she does. Every sentence is a pleasant surprise, a slight, refreshing deviation from the formulaic structure of some YA novels.  Her matter-of-fact style is concise – occasionally, over-simplistic – but, generally, it’s a joy to read the elegiac rhythm she has so deftly created with ever-turning, dynamic language.
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Mythological take on a queer romance, based on Orpheus, sounds incredibly inviting. However there are a few issues I take exception with: lack of variety in lgbt identity (gay, trans, nothing else), violence against trans character "for the plot" etc
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I had to physically restrain myself from reading every word on the pages, because extreme trigger warnings for homophobia, conversion therapy and graphic depictions of abuse.

Like, it could be a good story? but just too painful to read. It's poetic but from my own experience far too triggering to enjoy.
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This book is quite short and I think that the short length attributed to the fact that the plot did not feel fully fleshed out. I did quite like the main character but it felt as though her thoughts kept repeating for the entirety of the book. Her character and personality were never more than just these same thoughts on repeat. I did like the authors commitment to exploring the Orpheus myth and how she really did try to replicate Greek heroes/gods in the story.

My one very big complaint is that the trans character continues to be deadnamed by the main character for several chapters after she meets him. The people who work the conversion camp use his deadname which is to be expected since they're evil and trying to force him into femininity but there is no reason for the MC to. I do not know if this was changed in the final version since this book has since come out.
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I have quite Some mixed feelings. 

At one side,  this is a very brutal book and I dare to ask: was it too much brutality?

At the other side: the writing is fragile and powerfull. The emotions spat out of it and the combination with the Greek mythe, was a huge bonus.  It was very touching and moving and I did love the ending. 

I know one thing and that's that I hope Brynne Rebele-Henry will bring us more work in the not so far future!

[Full review in Dutch:]
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I very much enjoyed this book and as I discuss in my reading vlog for it I thought the way in which the author used greek myth to explore queer identity was unique and well executed. I recorded the whole reading experience in a video for my channel.
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I'm still processing, as it is obviously a piece that has some engaging/sad subject matter, but I think it is important to know queer history/about injustices ongoing. The book was beautifully written, despite the many trigger warnings one could give.
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I thought I would be prepared to go into the book, but it turns out I was very very wrong. This book was a tough read but it was so worth it. However I did feel like at times it was going to deep to make the reader feel emotions just for the sake of queer pain when at some parts it was unnecessary.
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