First, I will say, this book may have some trigger moments (The italics is taken from Good Reads: There are scenes in this book that depict self-harm, homophobia, transphobia, and violence against LGBTQ characters. As well as the images of the “treatments”). And then I will say that this review is not all positive and possibly not politically correct. It might go against what you personally believe, but this whole review is how I feel about Brynne Rebele-Henry’s book Orpheus Girl. There is a lot to like, but an equal amount to dislike. Therefore, this is a book that needs to be read and discussed. A lot of this review are talking points that I would use in trying to describe this book, understand it and even expand myself with. I would recommend for a strong 13 or 14-year-old (due to sexual scenes, and the above reasons) right up to adults. Have a teen reading group? Have a parent/guardian and teen reading group? This might be something to try.
This book has all the pluses and minuses of a first time novel: it is overly dramatic in places, it is raw, it is both idealistic and realistic, it is gritty, there is flowery prose and you can love and hate a character at the same time. I had questions about some of the characters personality changes (some seem convenient while others perfectly realistic); some questions about when this is set (probably best answered by saying anytime, but most likely today) and some questions about what happens to a few people (literally do they live or die).
This is not the first work that Rebele-Henry has created. And that comes into the picture as well. You see her background in poetry touch the pages and most likely, her own personal experiences. Everything past, present and even future they placed in this book.
The main point, taking the Greek myth of Orpheus and putting modern elements with it, weaves a story that is both fresh and has been seen. There are refreshing new images and themes (being gay in America today the main one); plus, the refreshing familiar themes (growing up can be Hell and our families trying to do what they think is best) will stay with you after you close the book. You might relate to one or more character. You might sympathize with a character you did actual like all that well. You might understand the families point even if you do not agree with it. You might even need a reread to help digest everything.
The language is modern, but in many ways, reminds me of books I read in my teens and twenties when “being gay” was something “new” in the media, in our books and something that was finally “okay” to talk about. I remember Matthew Sheppard, Rock Hudson and AIDS and how these concepts were shocking and new, and I see today and how this group is still fighting. Hence, Orpheus Girl. In many ways, this book has that naive feeling of not being “too edgy” and therefore, a “safe” read. Yet, it is in your face. Raya is a scared and proud lesbian. She kissed a girl. She liked it. In fact, she loved it and the girl who she did more with than kiss. She is everyone who has ever loved.
I think you feel this book as much as read it. In the readers copy I had (book is due in October 2019) the afterwards has a cast of characters explaining who is playing which part from the Orpheus story.