Book: Orpheus Girl | Author: Brynne Rebele-Henry | Publisher: Soho Teen | Release Date: 8th October 2019 | Pages: 176 | Genre: contemporary YA | Rep: lesbian, gay, trans | TW: queermisia, queerphobia, mental and physical abuse, self harm, attempted suicide, blood
What is it about?
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. (goodreads)
What did I think?
It’s kind of hard to put my thoughts on this into words. Because I’m not sure how I feel. On one hand, this book is full of strength and rebellion and hope, but on the other it’s dark and devastating and painful to read. What I really need to say is: please don’t read this book if you’re in a bad place.
So when it says “conservative Texas town” it means hardcore catholic christian where nobody tolerates queer people. As soon as somebody notices you being not cis and straight, you disappear. You’re a disappointment, become a sinner. That’s what Raya has been afraid of for a very long time and the reason why she never wanted to come out. But everything blows up in her face and she gets send to this christian camp that is supposed to make her heterosexual. But this camp is hard. Really hard. It’s destroying people’s lives. Teens that go there often change and not for the better. The methods they use at this camp are harsh and painful and manipulating. What seems like a weird Jesus camp at first soon turns about to be full of horrors.
Raya is rebellious at first, fighting the camp everywhere she can. But the further her “treatment” goes, the weaker she gets, both mentally and physically. And so is everyone else. Some can take it, some not so well. Some hide behind sarcasm, some just break completely. Because what they do in this camp is actual torture in so many ways. The words spoken to young queers, the things done to their bodies. None of them will leave there the same, unharmed, unscathed. It hurt me to read all this. It hurt me really deep down and I had to put the book away several times to process what I’ve just been reading.
But here’s the thing. The book was not bad. And it definitely gives you something to think about. Because it’s so real. The writing style is lyrical in some parts, then plain in others, bringing the harsh truth to life. It made Raya’s voice of telling this story so real, so raw, so painful. The reader gets stuck in her head, questioning life with her, trying to unknot the real from the unreal, the wrong from right. The whole story was dark, going ever darker, but where there’s darkness, there is light. Hope and fierceness were woven into this dark madness like a glowing ribbon.
So yeah, this book hurt me and left me with a hollowed out feeling. And I just want to say to every queer: you are valid, you are beautiful and strong. If anybody tells you otherwise? Seriously, fuck them. Sorry for the swearing, but this needs to be said.
And what I want to say is this, and I know I repeat myself, only read Orpheus Girl when you’re in a good mental place. There is just so much dark stuff in there. If you read it though, the book will make you feel a lot and give you much to think about and sort through. It is definitely a book worth reading if you prepare for heavy stuff.