The Turnaway Girls by Hayley Chewins
Published January 3rd 2019 by Walker Books Ltd
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’ve always loved to sing and being totally unable to imagine a world in which that was allowed had me totally intrigued, even more so when I read up a little on the author of The Turnaway Girls, Hayley Chewins. Hayley grew up in South Africa, in a household full of books. She’s studied Classical voice as well as doing degrees in English Literature and Italian. I’ve always loved when a song or a piece of music tells a story and I feel that Hayley’s particular expertise are this a perfect debut for her and gives her writing such a beautifully distinct style that I look forward to reading more of in the future.
The Turnaway Girls is by no means a long book at just shy of three hundred pages it is a pretty standard size for middle grade reads as far as I can tell and it is perfect for the story inside. The Turnaway Girls feels a little confusing to begin with as the main character talks about a world that is presumably not our own although with some similarities. Having not been able to experience much of said world or any kind of life outside of her cloister Delpherina’s knowledge is limited to what she has been told by Mother Nine, a woman charged with the care and education of The Turnaway Girls. These girls, although forbidden to sing or make any music or their own can create a substance called shimmer which is coveted by The Masters of The the city of Blightsend and as per the last kings ruling each Master may take their own Turnaway Girl from the cloister when they are twelve years old. This is the only way they can leave the cloister and as she can’t make shimmer Delpherina assumes she will have no hope of being chosen and she will be trapped with Mother Nine and her punishments forever.
Once I was over the initial opening confusion I very quickly got into this book. I had been a little lost but things made more sense the longer I read for and as I adjusted to the authors distinct and lyrical tone. I found the writing moved well, it never dwindled too long and kept a good rhythm and pace up throughout. The plot itself is reasonably simple when you take it down to brass tacks but there are twists and turns along the way with little nuggets of information broadening the story as it goes and shedding more light on the town of Blightsend and it’s strange, short history.
I found parts of the plot a little predictable but none the less enjoyable for it as for me it was really the way the characters reacted to these goings-on. A couple of characters I felt were a little flat but this might honestly be because for me a couple of them absolutely outshined the others and became fast favourites. Although we didn’t get a huge amount of detail about characters I think this only helped to enhance feeling that this is a tale just as much as it is a book which is a lovely, refreshing take that reminds me of a Pocketful of Crows and The Blue Salt Road by Joanne Harris.
The Turnaway Girls is a humourless book but certainly not one without light or hope much like the place where it is set, Blightsend is, dark, cold, grey and harsh but looking in the right places with the right eyes you can find beauty, life, magic and rebellion and in my opinion that describes this stunning debut perfectly. The Turnaway Girls is due out very soon! January 3rd is only two days away so if you enjoy lyrical reads, a little mystery and the magic of a song keep an eye out for this particularly gorgeous cover in your local bookstore this Thursday!