Review of “Orpheus Girl”: A Testament to True Love and Resiliency


Review of “Orpheus Girl”: A Testament to True Love and Resiliency


by Sophie Allen


Orpheus Girl will be released October 8, 2019.

At the beginning of Orpheus Girl, sixteen year-old Raya lives in Pieria, Texas with her grandmother. After she and Sarah are caught kissing, they are sent to Friendly Saviors, a conversion therapy camp. There, Raya becomes Orpheus, bent on escaping with Sarah, her Eurydice. The novel, Brynne Rebele-Henry’s first, will be published by Soho Teen. It comes to 176 pages and will be released on October 8, 2019. 

The trouble with writing a review of this book is that every other review uses the word “haunting” – a descriptor I also would like to use. Rebele-Henry is known for her raw depictions of queer girlhood (see her poetry collections, Autobiography of a Wound and Fleshgraphs), but Orpheus Girl is truly on its own level. She provides a heartbreaking discussion of how Raya has to “pretend to be like the other girls with their bright, glittery hungers,” studying magazines to learn how not to get outed.

Sometimes, this unique rawness gives way to something too intense, which is difficult to stomach when reading about abuse against children, knowing that these camps are real. This is a book that hurts to read. 

Everything feels incredibly deliberate, orchestrated in such a way that a déluge of details and references isn’t overwhelming. Raya educates herself on myths after her mother leaves to “go be Aphrodite in the TV.” Jean, a girl Raya knew at Bible camp, is described as “some kind of Artemis, a gay girl warrior.” Alongside a helpful glossary, Rebele-Henry provides details like this, and some referential names, to guide the reader through the novel, not just as a standalone work, but as a clever reimagining of the Orpheus myth. 

The Orpheus and Eurydice myth first appeared in Virgil’s Georgics, and, later, Ovid’s Metamorphoses. In it, the half-Muse musician Orpheus – whose skill was renowned across the land – is enamored with a woman, Eurydice. When a fateful accident kills her on their wedding day, Orpheus travels to the underworld with his lyre, touching Hades, Persephone, and the other figures of the shadowy realm with his song.

They allow him to bring Eurydice back up to Earth – on the condition that he does not look back at her before both leave the territory of the Underworld. When Orpheus steps into the light of the upper world, he glances back, but Eurydice has not yet crossed the threshold, and she fades into the darkness.

Rebele-Henry’s fluid prose reflects its classical roots in even more subtle ways: Raya’s mother leaves in early childhood like a Greek god. Although she leaves after having Raya as a teenager, she is still part of a legacy of disappearing girls and women, all of whom vanish after some perceived deviancy. Rebele-Henry evokes Atalanta as a disappearing queer girl, an ancestor to Raya and Sarah. It is clear to any young LGBTQ+ person that, sad as it may be, pain is often a part of the queer experience.

That said, I think it’s also important to tell queer stories that don’t romanticize the suffering that so often accompanies our journeys. Orpheus Girl is a testament to true love and resiliency, but it’s also a gorgeous, sharp-edged story that sometimes cuts too deep. 

Besides its literary merit, Orpheus Girl stands out because it’s a young adult novel written by a young adult person. Brynne Rebele-Henry was born in 1999, and I think that shows in her novel. Obviously, she’s talented – but it’s also because nobody else writes the way she does. Every sentence is a pleasant surprise, a slight, refreshing deviation from the formulaic structure of some YA novels. Her matter-of-fact style is concise – occasionally, over-simplistic – but, generally, it’s a joy to read the elegiac rhythm she has so deftly created with ever-turning, dynamic language.


By Brynne Rebele-Henry

176 pp. Penguin Random House. $18.99, $10.99.

Preorder here.

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Sophie Allen is a freshman at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. She is the prose editor of COUNTERCLOCK Journal. She does not know how often she should be watering her cactus, but is doing her best. Find her on Twitter at @spiiriitkiid or Instagram at @sallen.jpg.

Sarah Feng