The Turnaway Girls | Hayley Chewins

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The Turnaway Girls by Hayley Chewins

Candlewick

272 pages

Trigger warnings: sexism, oppression, verbal abuse, some instances of violence

Author Bio: Hayley Chewins is the author of The Turnaway Girls, which was chosen by Kirkus as one of the best books of 2018, and by the ALA as one of the best feminist books for young readers. She studied classical voice for a year before switching to a degree in English and Italian, dabbling in law, and completing an MA in Writing for Young People at Bath Spa University. Hayley lives in Johannesburg, South Africa, with her husband and a very small poodle. Her next book, The Sisters of Straygarden Place, is forthcoming from Candlewick Press in fall 2020.

“She was a girl who asked questions. She became a woman who asked questions. And there is nothing Blightsend hates more than that… As far as Blightsend is concerned, girls may as well give up their mouths altogether”

Singing is prohibited in the domed cloister of turnaway girls. They must listen, obey, and silently make gold—“shimmer”—from the music of their mostly-male masters on the outside.  Delphernia Undersea, 12, is a turnaway girl whose passion for signing and inability to make shimmer defies everything she has been taught to be. When Bly, a mysterious yet kind master who speaks in poems, selects her to leave the cloister with him, Delphrina must face the outside world of Blightsend which is just as restrictive as the stone enclosure. With a brave voice and the help of Linna, a new friend who makes her feel empowered, Delphrina discovers a hidden talent and uncovers Blighsend’s treacherous secrets.

The prose in The Turnaway Girls is wonderfully lyrical which makes it stand out in the Middle Grade genre; even with girls who can weave music into gold, the language is the most magical element of this fantasy book. Due to Chewins’ rather complex writing style in terms of metaphors, diction, and syntax, this book might be more suitable for readers between the ages of 11 and 14.  

Chewins explores the ways in which young girls are silenced early on in their lives. She is able to do so powerfully and gracefully through her deft command over language. And through her decision to place this very real issue in a fantastical world that, on the surface, seems completely different to that of the reader. However, as the story unfolds, the unfortunate similarities between Blightsend and the real world become quite clear, leaving readers with a sinking feeling but also, hopefully, with questions about female oppression in their own lives and the ways in which they can help combat it.

For those who crave fast-paced narratives with plenty of action and a firm, consistent sense of setting throughout, this novel might fall short.  However, The Turnaway Girls delivers in many other areas such as with the complexity of its characters, its adept navigation of sexism and female empowerment, and of course with its beautiful, lyrical language.

PRR writer- Alessandra De Zubeldia

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