21 February 2011

Review: Butterfly by Sonya Hartnett

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.

Butterfly at Powell's
Butterfly at Book Depository
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Published by Candlewick Press, 2010
ISBN-13: 9780763647605
YTD: 21
Source: Review (see review policy)
Rating: B+
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy)


Sandy Nawrot 2/21/11, 7:32 AM  

I think I've listened to that narrator before, and I remember her as being pretty good. I think forever authors can write about topics like this...it is universal. Growing up and fitting in will always be one of the toughest things we go through.

Julie P. 2/21/11, 8:22 AM  

This does sound like a great mother daughter book club selection! Would you mind linking up to Kid Konnection on Saturday? Between the two of us, one should remember.

Michelle 2/21/11, 8:43 AM  

I'm so glad you enjoyed this one! I read it awhile back and thought it was such a sad but powerful look at how this young girl was growing up.

Madeline Mora-Summonte 2/21/11, 9:16 AM  

Another book for my "to read" list. :)

Zibilee 2/21/11, 10:38 AM  

Beth, what is it about your reviews that make me so excited to try all the book you are reading? I love the sound of this one. It seems deliciously dark and portentous, and it's one that's going on my list right now. Thanks for the wonderful and very enticing review! You are bad for my wallet!

caite 2/21/11, 11:16 AM  

I must say I am very curious about the 'disaster' that is to come. I am not usually a great fan of 'coming of age' books, but this review grabbed my attention.

Anonymous,  2/21/11, 11:44 AM  

I don't read my YA and this year I seem to be reading less but this does sound interesting.

Sheila (Bookjourney) 2/21/11, 2:13 PM  

That sounds wonderful! I need to look this one up.

Kailana 2/21/11, 2:20 PM  

Sounds like a good book and what a pretty cover!

bermudaonion 2/21/11, 2:56 PM  

This does sound good! You have to wonder why some kids can get through those teen years so easily and other struggle with it fiercely.

Dorte H 2/21/11, 3:30 PM  

When I turned 50 last week, it was clear that some of my female friends saw this as a threat. But I´d rather be 50 than 14 any day! So in my ears this novel sounds interesting, but very daunting.

Pam Pho 2/21/11, 5:45 PM  

I loved, loved, loved this book!

Shelly B 2/21/11, 8:57 PM  

I had not heard of this title. It does sound like one that I need to read. Your reviews are so well written!

Rebecca Rasmussen 2/22/11, 8:51 AM  

This sounds sad and interesting -- I teach high schoolers during the summer and see firsthand the cruelties kids are capable of. Yikes!

Beth Hoffman 2/22/11, 11:49 AM  

Though I read very little YA, this one grabbed by attention. Terrific review!

Unknown 2/22/11, 1:28 PM  

Sounds like a really good YA..and a good one to try on audio. I'm off to see if my library has it.

Jenners 2/24/11, 8:34 PM  

It sounds intriguing. I want to know more about that neighbor and what happens to Plum.

chrisa511 2/26/11, 11:37 PM  

Hmmm..this sounds really interesting! The only thing I've read by her is Surrender which I wasn't crazy about but I think it's the most commented on post I've ever done...reviewed it almost 5 years ago and still get comments on it!

Jennifer 3/3/11, 10:29 AM  

Have yet to come across this book on any other blogs but it sure does sound interesting. When you mentioned that it would be a good high school book club pick, I couldn't help but think: I wish I read more books like this in high school.

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