Orphea Proud

Orphea Proud

5.0 2
by Sharon Dennis Wyeth

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Taboo to the touch

A fire in the cold

That was us

Welcome to a stage, where a soaring painting takes shape before your eyes, a big-booty poet stands at the mike, and there’s a seat right in front, just for you.

This is a place where wise old ladies live and boys act like horses.

This is a vision of love



Taboo to the touch

A fire in the cold

That was us

Welcome to a stage, where a soaring painting takes shape before your eyes, a big-booty poet stands at the mike, and there’s a seat right in front, just for you.

This is a place where wise old ladies live and boys act like horses.

This is a vision of love that was crushed and brought back to life.

And this is my story. I’m Orphea Proud. Welcome to the show.

As Orphea, who discovers her sexuality as a lesbian, shares her story, powerful questions of family, prejudice, and identity are explored.

From the Hardcover edition.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Orphea Proud tells her "love story" as a performance piece, also sprinkling some poetry into the mix. She talks about losing her preacher father at age seven, the death of her mother the following year, and about being raised by her strict half-brother and his wife. At age 10, she meets Lissa, and they become best friends. But years later Orphea feels "panic" as she realizes she is in love with Lissa. When her brother, Rupert, catches the 16-year-olds in bed, he beats Orphea, and Lissa, hurriedly driving away in the snow, crashes and dies. There is a lot of tragedy for readers to swallow, and the preacher and Rupert seem too stereotypically cruel to be credible. But the performance angle keeps the pace brisk, even though some of the material seems more expository than would be plausible before a live audience (as would its length). After Lissa's death, Orphea has a breakdown, and her brother ships her to her mother's aunts in remote Virginia. The two elderly women seem overly familiar, but they add some warmth and much-needed tolerance to the story, assuring Orphea that "you're family, honey child" even after she tells them she is gay. Wyeth (Once on This River) brings the story to life with tactile details, such as the "wood smoke mixed with snow clouds" smell of the aunts' store on Proud Road. All in all, a tender, if not always believable, novel. Ages 14-up. (Nov.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Orphea Proud has been raised by a loving mother and a strict father. Now, at 16, she is an orphan, living with her half-brother Rupert and his wife. On the night of a snowstorm sleepover, Orphea and her best friend Lissa explore their sexual identities and share an intimate kiss. When Rupert catches them, he hits Orphea and disgustedly sends Lissa home in the snow. Lissa is killed in a tragic accident and Orphea is thrown into the depths of depression. Rupert then dumps Orphea, along with her journal and her belongings, with her great aunts in Proud Road, Virginia, the rural home of her late mother. He leaves her there with the warning that the family is "righteous" and will not be interested in the loss of her gay lover. But living with her Aunt Minnie and Aunt Cleo in the rundown general store Orphea learns more about her mother and her father, about prejudice and tolerance, about family and love. Although she is herself an African American, the blond, blue-eyed boy who lives across the street is a relative. He too has experienced loss and now spends his days painting colorful murals of horses in a root cellar. Orphea takes her journal to the cellar and returns to writing poetry while planning on someday sharing her work in performance. In fact, the story is itself that performance, a performance that includes the poetry she has written. Interspersed throughout are subtle details and allusions to Orphea's namesake, the Greek hero, Orpheus. KLIATT Codes: S*—Exceptional book, recommended for senior high school students. 2004, Random House/Delacorte, 208p., Ages 15 to 18.
—Janis Flint-Ferguson
Children's Literature
The author tells of a love relationship between two adolescent girls. It is a tale told from the perspective of one girl's struggle with her sexual identity. Various adults in her life react differently. Her brother, who is her guardian, reacts violently and with anger. Her school mates whisper and giggle. And then there are her two elderly aunts who accept and love her for who she is. Woven through the story are poems written by the main character, Orphea, which express her thoughts and feelings. The venue is a show in a nightclub. The main character comes out and introduces herself, her show partner, the club owners and the waitress. She then begins the tale of her love story. The story provides a chance for adolescents to learn and accept differences among people. 2004, Delacorte Press, and Ages 12 to 17.
—Leila Toledo
School Library Journal
Gr 8 Up-Using a combination of prose and poetry, an African-American teen relates her life to a live audience-and to readers-as a performance piece. Orphea recalls happy memories of her mother while growing up in Pennsylvania, and the death of her parents, which left her under the guardianship of her rigid half brother, Rupert. She met Lissa when they were 10 and the two became inseparable. However, everything came crashing down when, at 16, they decided they were in love and Rupert found them in bed together. He beat Orphea, and Lissa drove away in a snowstorm and had a fatal wreck. Inconsolable, Orphea began to shut down. Her only friends, Icky and Marilyn, who owned the diner where she read poetry at open-mic night, moved to Queens, NY, adding to her loneliness. Fed up with her behavior, Rupert dumped her with her mother's aunts in Virginia. This turned out to be a lifesaver for the teen because these old hill women loved her unconditionally and she loved them in return. In the healing process, Orphea befriended 14-year-old Raynor Grimes, a white relative and brilliant painter who accompanied her to New York City for the summer to be part of a show at Icky's new club. The monologue device is sometimes successful and sometimes intrusive. The plot moves quickly and most of the characters are well developed. The mood is sustained throughout, and the tone lightens when Orphea's life begins to improve. This is a solid read, similar in tone to Ellen Wittlinger's Hard Love (S & S, 1999).-Betty S. Evans, Southwest Missouri State University, Springfield Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
In one long onstage monologue with a smattering of recited poems, 17-year-old Orphea tells lyrically yet directly of the love and pain her life has held. Her beloved mother's early death leaves Orphea seeing everything in gray until fellow ten-year-old Lissa brings color and warmth back into the world. The two intertwine their lives until, at age 16, they acknowledge having fallen in love. One wonderful night together is smashed by Orphea's bigoted brother/guardian, who beats up Orphea and chases Lissa from the house-possibly contributing to Lissa's immediate, fatal car crash. Devastated, deposited at her great-aunts' house in the Virginia mountains, Orphea meets her 14-year-old white cousin Ray, who paints a mural of Lissa for her. The cathartic stage performance happens the following summer, in Queens, at a warehouse-turned-nightclub owned by adult friends: Orphea recites while Ray paints a mural behind her that only the audience can see. The unusual format, along with young-adult literature's dearth of gay African-American characters, make this piece notable, but it's Orphea's passionate and poetic voice that makes it special. (Fiction. YA)

Product Details

Random House Children's Books
Publication date:
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Random House
File size:
2 MB
Age Range:
14 Years

Read an Excerpt


"Don't look back."

That's what they told me.

So I won't turn around, even though I'm itching to. I want to see what that skinny little pale dude up on the ladder is painting behind my back. But I can't, because I have to look at you. You're the audience, after all. And I'm the performer. Raynor Grimes, the guy up on the ladder, well, he's part of the performance, too, but he doesn't talk, he paints, which means he keeps his eyes on his gargantuan canvas, while I keep my eyes on you. Without you none of us would be here, not me or Ray or Mr. Icarus Digits, the owner of this club, or Marilyn Chin, your waitress this evening who plays the electric bass and whose eyes look like they're bleeding on account of her burgundy mascara.

Welcome to our show!--which we've kind of nicknamed Not a Rodeo, for reasons I'll tell you later.

I'm Orphea Proud.

For those of you who've never been here, welcome to Club Nirvana!--a former meat warehouse. Some people say it stinks here. Once upon a time slabs of beef did hang from the ceiling. During the day, the place is dank, a nondescript square carved out of shitty concrete with the faint smell of pig's entrails. But at night, the space transforms. When I step inside this club before the show, the walls hug me. The people here are my little family. I bump my butt up onto the stage and Icky Digits waves at me from the light booth. If it weren't for Icky, I'd be sitting in a diner staring at an egg yolk, thinking it's a sunflower. When I get here in the evening, I see Raynor Grimes, too. Ray always arrives before I do, even though we live together. He scurries on over to mix his paints in private. Sometimes if I sneak in early, I spy. This evening I spotted a thin layer of ethereal blue. And I thought, oh yeah what a backdrop! Maybe tonight Ray's painting will be all me--study of a big-booty poet against a pale blue sky.

I said that the people at Club Nirvana are like my family. In fact Raynor and I are blood related. Something I didn't know when I first met him on top of a mountain down in Virginia. You're wondering how a vanilla boy with straw-colored hair could be kin to a coffee girl like me? Sure you are. Not only that, he's so skinny, his shoulder blades stick through his shirt like angel's wings--whereas I have meat on my bones. Never know who might be in your family, ain't it the truth?

Who else can I tell you about? Your waitress and my good friend Marilyn Chin! Besides playing bass and having a thing for burgundy mascara, Marilyn reads tea leaves. After the show, she'll read yours if you ask her. I warn you, though, her readings can be puzzling. When Ray and I first came to Queens, New York, to do our show and stay with her and Icky, Marilyn read mine.

"You are in grave danger of being devoured."

"Devoured by what?"

"Words. They will eat you like maggots."

"So, is there any way I can avoid this horrendous fate?"

"Sure," Marilyn said. "Make a raft of them."

Hmm, a raft of words. . . . Maybe you can figure that one out.

Next up--Mr. Icarus Digits! He wasn't always a club owner. He used to cook short-order in a diner in the town in Pennsylvania where I grew up. The diner had an open-mike night on Fridays. I started going when I was twelve and never missed a Friday after that. Being able to hear poets and musicians was like opening the iron bars of my prison. I was living with my brother, Rupert, and his wife in a house where I found it hard to breathe. But on Friday nights at the diner, I could throw open the doors inside myself and let poetry and music whistle through me while I felt all kinds of stuff; delicious stuff and scary stuff and parts of myself that I had not yet come to love. Another reason I was drawn to the diner was that I was already into writing poetry myself. But when I first went to the open-mike night, I just listened. One day, Icky Digits spotted me from behind the counter where he was cooking and encouraged me to get up and perform. My friend Lissa was there to encourage me, too, or I should say she nagged me. My first performance at the mike was the beginning of something taking shape inside me; a sense that I'd be a poet for the rest of my life and maybe even a performer. Icky Digits was right there with me, helping to make it possible, just like he's made it possible for me and Ray to put on our show at Club Nirvana these past few weeks. Want to hear something awesome about Icky Digits? He has no fingerprints. He won't tell me why. Maybe he tossed too much hot stuff at the grill or got too close to some lights. He's obsessed with theatrical lighting--he won't mind me saying that. He likes me bathed in pink. But sometimes he'll switch to red or blue. So expect me to keep changing colors. And look out--he's been known to throw a spotlight on the audience. Icky has one other interest, t'ai chi, which he practices every morning, advancing like a slow wind through the loft. Ray and I just ignore him and go on eating our cereal. Marilyn usually misses out on Icky's t'ai chi routine, because she takes such a long time in the bathroom.

So, that's the gang at Club Nirvana. Did I leave anyone out?

Yeah . . . You.

You're a very sexy audience. I love the way you laugh. I bet you can dance on the ceiling and eat pretzels off the floor with one hand tied behind you. Admit it--you're an adrenaline junkie, undulating hysteria about to explode, waiting to be discovered. You're not cynical, are you? Please tell me you're not. But if you are, I guess it's okay. I've had my moments, too. But it's hard to be cynical when you're telling a love story. And that's what I'm about to do.

From the Hardcover edition.

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Orphea Proud 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
this book was a very good book, it made me wonder how someones life could be changed in a split second.How the people you love can be taken away so fast, it aslo showed me that when one door closes (even if you dont want to be closed) another one opens, it could be for the worst but most times its for the best. I give this book two thumbs up and I think every one should read this book because this book makes you really sit back and think how you life should and could be.