The turnaway girls live in a cloister outside of the city Blightsend, under the watchful eye of Mother Nine, where they learn how to make gold, or shimmer, out of the music Masters play outside the walls. They learn to do as they’re told. They learn to be silent. Only girls are allowed to make shimmer, silently creating treasures for the Master who chooses them. And only boys are permitted to be Masters, the makers of music who live free, outside the cloister.
Twelve-year-old Delphernia has been raised in the cloister, but she’s never been like the other turnaway girls. She can’t make shimmer, and she can sing pure magic. She’s always asking questions. She knows from Mother Nine’s countless tales what happens to girls with singing throats—they get swallowed by the sea. But she can never bring herself to be completely silent.
When Delphernia is chosen by a Master to leave the cloister, it seems that her dreams have come true. And sure enough, she meets friends and allies, including a girl who makes forbidden music and a boy who carves birds out of stone. But there are also shadows in the city, from the Custodian of Blightsend, who wears silence like a cloak, to the Childer-Queen, who knows far too many of Delphernia’s secrets. Delphernia has been taught to stay quiet and submissive, but since she left the cloister, she’s learned to hope, to trust, and a spark of courage has begun to grow within her. In order to save her friends—and her city—change will have to come. And Delphernia is no stranger to speaking up when no one else will.
After all, secrets can’t fight cruelty. And silence can’t bring freedom.
Luminous and absorbing, The Turnaway Girls explores the silence which girls are often taught to keep, and the courage and importance of those who speak out anyway. Although it’s written in prose, it’s written so beautifully that it sometimes reads more like poetry. I loved Delphernia’s development over the course of the story, and her growing confidence and courage. The other characters are wonderful as well, making the cast irresistible. The story is fairly straightforward, but intricately detailed, and will enchant older readers as well as younger ones—I would highly recommend it to readers ages nine and up.
Note: Check out our interview with Hayley Chewins, author of The Turnaway Girls, here! And The Turnaway Girls was one of our favorites from 2020!