In the weeks before her fourteenth birthday, Plum Coyle struggles with trying to fit in at school and with coming to terms with her adolescent body. Like all young teens, she feels her family doesn't understand her and that she is just one awkward moment away from being a social outcast.
Unfortunately, Plum's insecurity and vulnerability make her easy prey both for her so-called friends and for the lonely, desperate woman living next door. Through a combination of her own misdeeds and naiveté, Plum's fourteenth birthday is not at all what she had envisioned.
Teenage girls can be cruel to each other, and Sonya Hartnett's Butterfly does not sugar-coat that fact. Some girls ride out those years fairly unscathed thanks to social savvy, drop-dead good looks, or solid family support, but Plum Coyle has none of those. Although her family loves her, Plum's much-older brothers are not equipped to guide their sister through her difficult years, and her parents seem somewhat oblivious.
Thus when Maureen, a thirty-something wife and mother, decides to befriend the teen, Plum is flattered and accepts her neighbor's advice and attention without question. From that day, Plum seems to be at the eye of a storm. Although she brings some of her troubles on herself, the girl is clearly unaware of the broader picture and the disaster to come.
Hartnett obviously understands the teenage mind, making it easy to relate to Plum on many levels. The girl comes up with innocent solutions to adults' puzzling actions, believes in the power of wishes, and will do almost anything to be liked by her peers. Although your own particulars are likely different from Plum's, you'll cringe at the approach of the inevitable humiliating moment her world is shattered. But with youth comes resiliency, and as her anger and self-pity begin to dissipate, Plum finally understands the possibilities of metamorphosis and finds the strength to put childhood and childish dreams into storage.
Although Harnett's blunt yet sensitive coming of age story is set in the 1980s in suburban Australia, the themes and issues are universal and timeless. Butterfly would make a wonderful book club choice for high schoolers and adults. I could not find a reading guide for the novel, but discussion points include ethical behavior, honesty, the nature of friendship, appropriate behavior for adults, keeping secrets, what one would do be accepted or to find love, and families.
I listened to the unabridged audio edition (Brilliance Audio, 6 hr, 36 min), read by Rebecca Macauley. Macauley did a fine job distinguishing among characters, and her light Australian accent added to the setting. My full audio review will be published by AudioFile magazine.
Published by Candlewick Press, 2010
Source: Review (see review policy)
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