Book Reviews · Reading

Review: The Turnaway Girls by Hayley Chewins

Delphernia Undersea wants to sing. But everyone on Blightsend knows music belongs 38609901to the Masters — and girls with singing throats are swallowed by the sea.

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.

My thoughts:

  • It took me a long time to read, which might be surprising because it was a five star book. I read THE TURNAWAY GIRLS slowly coz I wanted to savour every single word and not miss anything. I’ve gushed about this on twitter, but every sentence seemed deliberate and meaningful, and was infused by a kind of lyrical prose that was hauntingly beautiful and never overly flowery. Hayley writes beautifully, and I can’t wait to read her next offering.
  • THE TURNAWAY GIRLS has a seriously unique concept–it’s set in a world where girls weave gold from music, but are forbidden from creating music of their own. This drew me in straight away, mainly because I’d never read anything like that before. However, it also has a fairytale element (maybe created by the gorgeous writing), that makes the story seem classic and rooted in history.
  • This book is a love letter to creativity. Our main character, Delphernia, struggles to embrace her love for singing in a society that has deemed her unworthy to sing. Really, it’s a journey of self-acceptance, of casting off un-truths, and of challenging authority. I adored Delphernia’s character arc over the book–I thought it was done so beautifully, and captured the ups and downs of her journey from the cloister in a way that was realistic, and not linear. I am a VERY mediocre singer, but every few chapters I’d set the book aside and be inspired to do something creative. (It’s that kind of story!)
  • Relationships are at the heart of the story. Delphernia has spent all of her life in the cloister, with only Mother Nine and the other turnaway girls for company. Her escape allows her to pursue the first non-abusive relationships of her life–I adored the gradual trust that built up between her and the prince, but for me, the shining star of the story was the friendship between Delphernia and Linna, a girl master. The connection between them was lovely to see grow.
  • I’d recommend this story for upper middle-grade readers who love Kiran Millwood-Hargrave’s books. (Incidentally, Kiran blurbed THE TURNAWAY GIRLS). It’s magical, and wonderful and brimful of hope. It truly is a magnificent debut from a writer to watch!

Hayley recently tweeted that THE TURNAWAY GIRLS comes out in the UK very soon. If you’re in the mood for a feminist, fairytale-esque foray into Delphernia’s world, check it out:

Have a photo of me moodily posing with it:

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