The Orpheus Obsession is a young adult novel which deals with such interesting subject matter as rock stars, depression, mental illness, the duplicity of sexuality, weird, Francesca Lia Block-esque names, and statuatory rape. Unfortunately, however, few of these issues are dealt with in an entirely satisfactory manner. This is not to say The Orpheus Obsession is not worth reading; lying within this book is a DayGlo underworld which shines and pulses through the poetic details described by its 16-year-old narrator, Anooksha Stargirl. But the problem is, occasionally Stargirl stops being the narrator – and turns into far older-than-16 novelist and ex-music writer, Dakota Lane.
These moments of lucidity are the literary equivalent of having a glass of ice water unexpectedly thrown on you; the reader is propelled out of the story and left disoriented whenever the author becomes apparent. The worst offender is a moment near the end, when Lane sets up an eight-page, well-written psychotic episode for Anooksha wherein the protagonist comes to many character-evolving conclusions…only to bafflingly intercede and spell out what happened, as if she is uncertain whether her readers will understand the plot device. Yes, this novel is meant for young adults, but shouldn’t an author respect the audience she writes for? Also problematic is the underdevelopment of several characters; Stargirl herself is a delight, as already mentioned, but many of the other characters – like Anooksha’s friends Raphael and Agnes – remain ciphers.
Yet, despite some aggravating flaws, Lane has constructed a world with which any teenage girl (especially any teenage girl who’s gone to a concert and thought the cute singer was staring just at her) can relate. Lyrics by imaginary rock star Orpheus himself preface every chapter, clearly demonstrating how obsession can turn the vaguest lyrics into meaningful reflections of a separate life. Also done justice is the portrayal of the relationship between two sisters. Lane delicately captures the spiderweb complexity of these emotions, never broadsiding one feeling for another; and when Anooksha and her sister ZZ Moon interact, the most satisfying moments of the novel arise.
The Orpheus Obsession may not speak readily to jaded adult readers, but for any teenage girl who writes secret poetry, it will speak volumes. And while it is not entirely a revelation – Francesca Lia Block broke ground in the weird name/poetic language teenage adult fiction territory way back in 1991 – it’s still lovely to see that she’s finally getting some neighbors.
Reviewed by Megan Giddings
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