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.
In a haunting voice reminiscent of Sylvia Plath, with the contemporary lyricism of David Levithan, Brynne Rebele-Henry weaves a powerful inversion of the Orpheus myth informed by the real-world truths of conversion therapy. Orpheus Girl is a mythic story of dysfunctional families, trauma, first love, heartbreak, and ultimately, the fierce adolescent resilience that has the power to triumph over darkness and ignorance.
My review – spoiler free
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.
It’s hard to say, but I think this is the first time ever that I’m going to recommend you to not read the book I just reviewed.
I received an e-arc of this book through Netgalley in exchange for an honest review, but that doesn’t affect my opinions in any way.