Review: Brynne Rebele-Henry – Orpheus Girl

I was sent an eARC of this book through Edelweiss, in exchange for my honest review.

In her debut novel, award–winning poet Brynne Rebele-Henry re-imagines 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.

Rep: lesbian MC, lesbian love interest, multiple gay side characters, transgender side character

CWs: conversion therapy, electroshock therapy, suicidal ideation and suicide attempt by a side character, mentions of self harm, (religious & internalized) homophobia, transphobia, deadnaming, misgendering, public outing, homophobic slurs, violence, absent parent, descriptions of scarring and blood

Orpheus Girl

This is one of the (many!) 2019 LGBTQ+ releases that I’ve seen around a lot, and I requested it without even reading the synopsis. But before actually starting this, I did see some people saying it’s such a heavy read, and that was really good to know beforehand, because this really isn’t an easy read. I’ve tried to be mindful about when I read it, so that I was in the right headspace for it, and ultimately, I definitely think it was worth the read! But please do be careful when you decide to pick up this novel.

In these myths, girls are always being changed or taken by men, their voices, their protests ignored. And the queer girls, like Atalanta, are forced to become something else.

Let’s start with the lighter parts. Stylistically, this is a very interesting read. It’s the author’s debut novel, but she’s written poetry before. And since this novel is based on the poem of Orpheus and Eurydice, it’s a very poetic type of novel. The writing style is incredibly beautiful, and full of symbolic references, especially to Greek mythology.

The story itself is a lot heavier. From the first page on, it has a very sad atmosphere. Even the good parts, like the girls’ budding romance, are overshadowed by this feeling, because of the constant fear of being discovered, and their constant feeling of not belonging in their small town community. Later on in the book, it gets even heavier. Still beautiful, but so difficult to read as well.

Overall, this is a really promising debut, and I’m both curious and scared to see what the author will write next. I don’t think my heart will ever be ready for it!

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