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.
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.
A Reedsy 40 Best LGBT Book of the Century
2021 Winner of the Young Adult Virginia Author Award
Finalist for the Golden Crown Literary Award
A Fall 2019 Kids' ABA Indie Next Pick
A Bitch Media Best LGBTQ Young Adult Book of 2019
A She Reads Best Young Adult Book of 2019
Lone Star Literary Life’s Best of Texas 2019
Praise for Orpheus Girl
“Raya and Sarah's story is a credit to Rebele-Henry's own teen voice, mature beyond her years. The emotionally dramatic narrative . . . rings incredibly true.”
“A haunting, brutally true stroke of genius.”
—Meredith Russo, Stonewall Award winning author of If I Was Your Girl
“This raw and lyrical book doesn’t flinch away from the devastating brutality of conversion therapy, bravely bearing witness to the mental and physical pain the girls experience as a direct result of homophobia. Despite the heavy subject matter, it’s able to maintain a degree of lightness and hope.”
“An unflinching look at exclusion, hate and resilience.”
“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.”
—Chicago Review of Books
“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.”
“What makes thrillers so thrilling . . . is the layering of reality with myth, and few craft this combination as successfully as Orpheus Girl.”
“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.”
—Lone Star Literary Life
“A haunting story about exploring what it means to define your true self as those around you try actively to destroy it . . . the novel is powerful and will speak to anyone who has tried desperately to fit in, only to realize that's not what will make them feel complete.”
“A bold, graphic tale about the costs of exclusion.”
“Deeply emotional, this devastating story is lyrical and haunting.”
—School Library Journal
“This book is dreamy and wavering, like a heat mirage, like the shadows of trees on a sidewalk; it’s lovely and lazy, but grows in urgency as it progresses, just like Raya and Sarah’s attempts to escape.”
—Megan Szmyd, Old Firehouse Books (Fort Collins, CO)
Praise for Brynne Rebele-Henry
Finalist for the 2019 Audre Lorde Award for Lesbian Poetry
Winner of the AWP 2017 Donald Hall Prize for Poetry
"With unflinching vision, Brynne Rebele-Henry pulls us into the trenches of young womanhood.”
—Julia Elliott, author of The Wilds
“I couldn’t get this one out of my mind. Brynne Rebele-Henry has such a singular, obsessive urgency to her voice."
—Kim Addonizio, author of the National Book Award Finalist Tell Me
“Rebele-Henry is unafraid to confront the darkness that lives in any crevice."
—Tarfia Faizullah, author of Seam
"Wise, startling . . . a poet to watch."