At just 176 pages, Brynne Rebelle-Henry paints a very vivid and poignant picture of what LGBTQ+ people experience when sent to a conversion therapy camp.
Orpheus Girl is a reimagining of the Orpheus myth centering around 16 year old Raya who lives in a small conservative Texas town. When she is outed by her classmate, her and her girlfriend are sent to a conversion therapy camp to try and “fix” them. At this camp they are forced to endure tremendous amounts of torture and abuse, but despite all that, Raya channels the character of Orpheus and is determined to rescue herself and her girlfriend from this literal hell on earth.
The writing in this novel is lyrical and beautiful, and it makes sense given that Henry is a published port before writing this debut novel.
Henry takes on some very heavy subject matter, and the entire time reading, I had a hard time getting the descriptions of torture and abuse that these characters have to endure out of my head.
But Despite the heaviness of the story; Henry still manages to give us a story about hope. Whether it comes out of desperation for these characters or from their resilience and determination to get out of this situation alive, you remain hopeful that by the end they will be able to live freely to be who they are.
It is very obvious that Henry paid a lot of detailed attention to the crafting of every sentence to tell this story. There are so many beautiful passages that it’s hard to pick a favorite, but just to give an example:
“If the preacher said we were wrong, that we needed to be fixed or we’d end up in hell, then our parents or our guardians would ship us off or send us back to get fixed. And no matter how many times we begged them not to abandon us, no matter how many times we’d told them that these treatments could kill us, that we were being broken, turned into something different, that we didn’t know what would happen to us if things continued this way, that we didn’t know what we would change into, they wouldn’t listen. But still, we told them, told them we were tortured mentally and physically. That they poured hot water on our fingers, that they hooked us up to machines that electrocuted us, that they starved us. That like our older brothers and uncles and fathers who served in war and came back as shells, we too were being hollowed out.”
If you’ve read any of my other reviews in the past, you know that something I look for in reviewing a novel is the character development, and in Orpheus Girl, these characters go through so much growth by the end of the novel. Raya and Sarah stay determined to escape their abuse, even during moments where it seems like there is no hope. But we also get introduced to some LGBTQ+ side characters that become Raya and Sarah’s found family by the end of the novella.
I am blown away by this author’s debut and I really hope she goes on to write more novels because again, while this is a heavy story to unpack, it is a brilliant exploration of why conversion therapy is so dangerous and the psychological harm it causes. Please read this book if you have a chance, I know this will be a story that sticks with me for a really long time.