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Orpheus Girl
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Orpheus Girl
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In her debut novel, award-winning poet Brynne Rebele-Henry re-imagines the Orpheus myth as a love story between two teenage girls who are sent to conversion therapy after being caught together in an...
In her debut novel, award-winning poet Brynne Rebele-Henry re-imagines the Orpheus myth as a love story between two teenage girls who are sent to conversion therapy after being caught together in an...
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Description-

  • In her debut novel, award-winning poet Brynne Rebele-Henry re-imagines the Orpheus myth as a love story between two teenage girls who are sent to conversion therapy after being caught together in an intimate moment.
    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 fought 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 role of Orpheus, to return to the world of the living with her love—and after she, Sarah, and the other teen residents are subjected to abusive and brutal “treatments” by the staff, Raya only becomes more determined to escape.
     
    In a haunting voice reminiscent of Sylvia Plath and the contemporary lyricism of David Levithan, Brynne Rebele-Henry weaves a powerful inversion of the Orpheus myth informed by the disturbing real-world truths of conversion therapy. Orpheus Girl is a story of dysfunctional families, trauma, first love, heartbreak, and ultimately, the fierce adolescent resilience that has the power to triumph over darkness and ignorance.
    CW: There are scenes in this book that depict self-harm, homophobia, transphobia, and violence against LGBTQ characters.

Excerpts-

  • From the book Every night Grammy and I watch Mom on the TV. I always thought Mom was a silver screen kind of beauty because of that picture of her in high school: blonde, dimples, all clean-looking. But in this show she’s dark-sexy, her hair colored a deep brunette, silky bedsheets held up around her neck with gold ribbons. Mom left Pieria when I was a kid. Grammy would say it was because she needed to go be Aphrodite on the TV. I know that it’s because she was tired of it all, of the town and the people. So she disappeared one night. She only told Grammy as she was walking out the door. I was two.
     
     
    In the car on the way to church this morning, I write Sarah’s name in the condensation on the passenger’s window, then wipe it off before Grammy can see.
         The car is a worn-down blue Volvo from the seventies. It’s a miracle it’s still running. Every time Grammy slides the key in the ignition and it actually starts, she thanks God under her breath. The seat belts are frayed so much that they could snap if you pulled too hard, so we stopped using them. I have to hold onto the car door to keep from falling out of my seat every time Grammy brakes. She drives like a maniac. Runs over mailboxes on a regular basis, hits curbs, mows down shrubs. Once she ran over an abandoned lemonade stand. She never stops to deal with what she’s run over, just keeps going, like she’s late on her way to somewhere really important.
     
     
    I get through the service like I always do: running myths through my head. Ever since I found my mom playing Aphrodite on that soap opera, I’ve been memorizing them. I know it’s stupid, but I’ve always thought that one day I’ll open the door and she’ll be there, and I’ll need something to talk about. And since my mom’s Aphrodite, I might as well be able to talk about myths. During the service I think about Persephone, how the girl was pulled away from everything she’d ever known and taken to a strange world. Or Atalanta. 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.
         Grammy’s always talking about how one day I’ll have a normal life, with a husband and two kids (a boy and a girl) and a brick house with a white picket fence and a big yellow dog who’ll run around the yard. She says my husband should work so I don’t have to, and I’ll stay home all day and make cookies the way she taught me and go to PTA meetings and church. Whenever she talks about it, she gets a misty look in her eyes and twists the gold chain of her cross necklace between her fingers, and I know it’s not my life she’s imagining, that secretly she’s wondering what would have happened if her own husband hadn’t died in a car accident at twenty-seven and left her with a two-year-old girl, if her girl hadn’t gotten pregnant senior year of high school only to run off three years later.
         Instead, she still has a job arranging and delivering flowers for weddings and funerals and baptisms, continual reminders of her own wedding and her husband’s service, and she makes me go to cotillions and dance with boys, refuses to let me wear pants to school, and makes me go to church three times a week and Bible camp in the summer and try out for cheerleading every August.
     
     
    Every fall since fourth grade, she’s bought me a new pair of shiny green pom-poms. She takes the day off work to come to the...

About the Author-

  • Brynne Rebele-Henry was born in 1999. Her poetry and fiction have appeared in The American Poetry Review, Rookie, and Blackbird, among other places. Her writing has won numerous awards, including the Louise Louis/Emily F. Bourne Award from the Poetry Society of America. She has two books of poetry: Fleshgraphs and Autobiography of a Wound, which won the AWP Donald Hall Prize for Poetry and was a finalist for the Audre Lorde Award for Lesbian Poetry. Orpheus Girl is her first novel.

Reviews-

  • Kirkus

    August 15, 2019
    Teen lesbians fight for acceptance in a small town. In her debut novel, award-winning poet Rebele-Henry (Autobiography of a Wound, 2018, etc.) gives the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice a modern twist, situating the timeless tale of forbidden heterosexual love in present-day rural Texas. The protagonists are best friends fated with the misfortune of being raised in a place where being gay is "considered more offensive than any other sin." Growing up poor, scarred by a birth defect, and raised by her widowed grandmother, who's always resented that her daughter left her with a 2-year-old, 16-year-old Raya's "obsessing over staying invisible" is only compounded when she realizes she's gay and that her attraction for her best friend, Sarah, a preacher's daughter, is requited. After the true nature of their relationship is painfully made public, the teens' conservative families send them away for religious conversion therapy designed to "cure" their gayness. At the remote, prisonlike facility, Raya and Sarah band with other banished queer youths as they are subjected to hard labor and horrifying, identity-erasing treatments. Once desperate for acceptance of their sexual orientation, Raya and company now find themselves fighting for their lives. What the plot-propelled narrative lacks in thematic nuance it makes up for with probing character development, offering readers harrowing lessons in self-reliance. Characters default to white. A bold, graphic tale about the costs of exclusion. (index of characters) (Fiction. 13-18)

    COPYRIGHT(2019) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

  • School Library Journal

    September 1, 2019

    Gr 9 Up-Two lesbians in rural Texas suffer physical and psychological torture in this reimagining of the Orpheus legend. Raised in a conservative small town where gossip becomes myth, Raya has never felt like the other girls. She keeps her real self hidden, knowing that gay kids in her town disappear and become cautionary tales. When Raya and her best friend Sarah, a preacher's daughter, are caught in bed together, they are sent to Friendly Saviors conversion camp to"get fixed." Like Orpheus, Raya is determined to save the girl she loves, even if that means going through hell. But her resolve to escape quickly turns to resignation as she undergoes a brutal regime of labor, prayer, exercise, and, eventually, electric shock treatments. The so-called therapies at Friendly Saviors are staggeringly painful to endure and to read about. Horrific, graphic scenes of electroshock treatment as well as homophobic slurs, transphobia, suicide, and more may be triggering for some readers. Deeply emotional, this devastating story is lyrical and haunting, though repetition and heavy-handed reminders of the Orpheus story distract from the power and immediacy of Raya's narrative. Underdeveloped secondary characters align with other mythological figures but do little to move the story along. This unremittingly bleak depiction of what it means to be anything other than cisgender and heterosexual is heartbreaking; isolated Raya has no examples of queer happiness or survival. VERDICT A secondary purchase for libraries with large LGBTQIA+ YA collections that also offer more nuanced and positive looks at what it means to be gay.-Amanda MacGregor, Parkview Elementary School, Rosemount, MN

    Copyright 2019 School Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

  • Chicago Review of Books "The love between these two girls is the beating heart of this novel, and this romance combined with the intense masquerade they must constantly perform, 'just pretending' their feelings away, is where Rebele-Henry succeeds at portraying the aching duality of being queer in an environment that will not allow it . . . Orpheus Girl is a modern epic that helps us think about the older epics, and what they have still to offer us."
  • Counterclock Journal "A testament to true love and resiliency . . . it's a joy to read the elegiac rhythm she has so deftly created with ever-turning, dynamic language."
  • Lone Star Literary Life "Rebele-Henry has a true gift for mythological prose and imagery . . . All readers will benefit from this short, poetic story because while it is an engaging work of fiction, it is also a harsh reminder that no one should be thrown away or forced to change because they are different."

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