Monday, February 7, 2011

Review of Butterfly by Sonya Hartnett

Hartnett, Sonya. Butterfly. Candlewick Press, 2010.

Plum Coyle is turning 14, which makes her life feel full of possibility - and yet there are those troublesome friends, frustrating parents, a body that feels like a science experiment going wrong, and an inability to behave in just the right way. Plum finds support and possible friendship from her next-door neighbor Maureen, a self-confident and beautiful woman with a young child, but then is forced to question Maureen's motives when she discovers that Maureen is having an affair with Plum's 20-something brother Justin.

Plum's life is one big Awkward Phase. Reading this, I was plunged back into my adolescence, during which I wanted more than anything to just be invisible so no one could witness my gawky, bespectacled, desperately uncomfortable existence. Or no - like Plum, I knew the best thing would be to not care at all what people thought - but that was even more impossible than becoming a graceful, lovely teen.

Plum's efforts to grasp some control over her life are strange and rather pathetic - and yet are intriguing enough to grant the readers some insight into this imaginative and worthwhile person. Her friends are fairly awful, at least in a group, but we can see why they are rather fed up with Plum, who has decided that she can't just be herself with this crowd but can't figure out what to say or do instead. Plum is difficult, needy, and desperate for insight, and that last is exactly what makes her a worthy and interesting character - and one to whom many readers will relate.

The narration doesn't just stick to Plum, but, butterfly-like, lights occasionally upon Maureen and Plum's brothers Justin and Cydar. Cydar, a contemplative and moody 22-year-old, is a particularly poignant character; his feelings and worries about Plum, whom he has loved intensely since she was born, are strong and painful.

Plotwise, this is a typical adolescent slice-of-life, with Mean Girl friends and betrayed trust, but the breezy and quirky intensity of the narration, as well as Plum's vividness, raise this book above many novels for teens.

Recommended for ages 11 to 14.

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