The Turnaway Girls is a fast read, but it’s one that hit an unexpected chord in me. Our MC is told time and time again she isn’t enough and I’m just at that place now where that both saddens and enrages me.
On the strange, stormy island of Blightsend, twelve-year-old Delphernia Undersea has spent her whole life in the cloister of turnaway girls, hidden from sea and sky by a dome of stone and the laws of the island. Outside, the Masters play their music. Inside, the turnaway girls silently make that music into gold.
Making shimmer, Mother Nine calls it. But Delphernia can’t make shimmer. She would rather sing than stay silent. When a Master who doesn’t act like a Master comes to the skydoor, it’s a chance for Delphernia to leave the cloister. Outside the stone dome, the sea breathes like a wild beast, the sky watches with stars like eyes, and even the gardens have claws.
Outside, secrets fall silent in halls without sound. And outside, Delphernia is caught — between the island’s sinister Custodian and its mysterious Childer-Queen. Between a poem-speaking prince and a girl who feels like freedom. And in a debut that glimmers with hope and beauty, freedom — to sing, to change, to live — is precisely what’s at stake.
I almost broke down reading some parts of The Turnaway Girls. Seriously. I don’t want to ruin this book, and all the tragic and emotional surprises in store. But there was something about it that spoke to me. The way this was so clearly almost dystopic and the way that the society is trying to shape Delphernia into something she isn’t. The ways they try to force her into a mold. It’s not a discussion and there is no real chance to exist outside it. I read it as a metaphor for the suppression of identity.
I was almost begging the Chewins, please give Delphernia someone who can let her grow and expand. I was visibly upset and emotional reading about how she was shrunk, pushed into a mold that she didn’t want to be in. Equally heartbreaking was the way that another character bends gender roles and the way society is just not having it.
(There’s no explicit conversation about how they identify, but they begin dressing like the opposite gender, in this society, and they are not recognized as such).
The Turnaway Girls had a whimsical and lyrical quality. It was almost dreamlike with moments of darkness and shadows blended in. It’s a book about the truths we find out about ourselves, that we may have always known, but lacked the language to put words to the feelings in our heart.
What is your favorite middle grade novel?
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