Thursday, April 29, 2010

Review of The Butterfly

The Butterfly by Sonya Hartnett
Pages: 240
Genre: YA Realistic Fiction
Pub. Date: August 10, 2010
ARC Obtained Through LibraryThing Early Reviewers
My Rating: 2.5/5 stars

Goodreads says, "Growing up during the 1980s in the safe complacency of the Australian suburbs, Plum Coyle should be happy. But on the cusp of her fourteenth birthday - and on the fringe of her peer group - she lives in terror of the disapproval of her cruel and fickle girlfriends, and most of all, she hates her awkward, changing body with a passion.So when Plum's glamorous next-door neighbor Maureen, a young wife and mother, befriends Plum, Plum responds with worshipful fervour. Plum feels herself reinvented. With Maureen, she becomes the girl she's always wanted to be. But Maureen has an ulterior motive for taking Plum under her wing."

Plum Coyle is your typical adolescent girl growing up the 1980's in Australia.  She goes through life trying to impress her friends, trying to gain attention, and essentially trying to be someone she isn't.  This book is an accurate portrayal of what some young females must go through in order to feel accepted and fit in; however, Plum takes it a step further and tries too hard.  Sonya Hartnett's depiction of adolescent life in The Butterfly is so awkward it hurts.

Plum, vying for attention from her cliquey group of girlfriends, makes some bad decisions.  On top of that, she feels inferior when around them and is easily swayed.  Hartnett does a nice job of illustrating how in some peer groups it's very "you're in" one minute and "you're out" the next.  She is desperately trying to fit in, but it's like witnessing someone trying to push a circle into a square peg.  Hartnett even tries to impress her older neighbor, Maureen, but their relationship ends up being an unhealthy one.  Plum is desperate for a mentor.  I was hoping she would find a group friend, but sadly, that never happened.   

I gave this novel 2.5 out of 4 stars, because I felt that it wasn't really YA. Just like Plum, it's stuck somewhere in between.  Yes, Plum is a fourteen year old girl, but some of the themes were much older.  For example, this book isn't always focusing on Plum and her experiences.  Parts of the novel focus on her brothers and the neighbor, Maureen, and lets just say it was rather edgy.  For example, there's an affair/adultery depicted and detailed marijuana use.  When the novel does focus on Plum, often times she is so eccentric and odd that I imagine many teens finding her to be annoyingly weird.  She spends a lot of time focusing on puberty and body image to the point where it becomes unhealthy.  I really didn't like that message especially since there was no closure around that issue.  

On the other hand, Hartnett's writing style is simply beautiful.  I haven't read an author so lyrical and poetic (with the exception of Maggie Stiefvater) in a long time.  Her voice is extremely unique and descriptive.  Hartnett can take a simple activity, such as walking down the street, and weave an extraordinary image in the reader's mind.  This, I feel, may be lost and unappreciated on the average teen.  In fact, this book felt very literary; it's almost like something that you might come across in a modern literature high school or college course.  The theme was important and many young adults may not even take note of it.   Hartnett suggests that we all go through a metamorphosis, just like a butterfly, and while some can undergo this change quite successfully, for others, it can be a challenging, messy process. Life and its situations, especially while you are an adolescent, aren't always easy or pleasant and this book certainly depicts that.  Ultimately, life can be, as we like to refer to it at work, a gelatinous mess.

All in all, this book left me sort of lukewarm.  I found many admirable qualities and important themes, but if I passed it on to a fourteen year old (as the ARC says fourteen and up) I think they might be bored to tears by the detailed descriptions as well as Plum's idiosyncrasies.  Perhaps this book should be marketed to older high school students or as contemporary adult fiction?  I think that age bracket would appreciate Hartnett's mystical writing style and controversial situations a bit more than your average younger teen.  

*Pre-order the book here:  The Buttefly


  1. I haven't read this but I don't think it is my type of book. I liked your review. It was a very articulate explanation of what you liked and didn't like. I have heard that Sonya Hartnett is an excellent author but I haven't read any of her books. It is too bad that this one was such a disappointment.

    Based on your description of the book it doesn't sound like one that most teens would enjoy.

  2. Thanks for the honest review! I've been eyeing this book for a while now and I might give it a try someday ...

  3. Thanks for the comments, guys! I appreciate it. It was a tough review to write, but I had to be honest!

  4. Excellent review! Thank you! I value honesty.

  5. Hmmm... I'm thinking that I will give this one a miss. Although the writing does sound melodic, the story itself doesn't really appeal. I have to say that this was a fabulous review though.


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