The Turnaway Girls by Hayley Chewins – REVIEW
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.
“Words are never alone when they are spoken…They carry their echoes with them.”
This is a really difficult book to review as it’s so hard to categorise. It’s marketed as a children’s fantasy, with the main character being twelve years old. I do think some children might find it a complicated book though. It’s so richly layered and complex that the reader is constantly having to think to unpick events and question the deeper meaning. As an adult though, I found it a very rewarding reading experience.
“There’s an ache inside me that’s hunger and also not hunger, an emptiness of the heart.”
The writing style is beautifully lyrical and subtly clever, employing techniques such as repetition to create a story that’s, appropriately enough, almost a song. I was able to read this book in a couple of hours but it’s one of those that deserves to be re-read. The premise of the book revolves around the silencing of girls and the bravery that’s needed to find your voice in a world that wants to keep you quiet. The world-building and plot were a little difficult to follow at first but they were always engaging and kept me reading.
“We only belong to those who love us.”
The main character, Delphernia Undersea, was wonderfully fleshed-out and had me rooting for her from the beginning. As she fights to carve her place in the world, she discovers long-hidden secrets that have the power to change everything. Linna and Bly were great characters but Mother Nine was the most fascinating for me. A cruel and hard guardian, I found her complex motivations to be riveting. Overall, I thought this book was something special and I think it’s up to each child to take from it what they can. I’ll be passing this copy onto my godchild in the hope she enjoys it.