There will be a book that comes along and punches you right in the guts. It doesn’t happen very often. And when it does it is equal parts excruciating and beautiful. What’s that cringey phrase? ‘An exquisite torture’.
But it’s very true of this book. ‘Paper Butterflies’ made me feel like I was being rubbed raw. But it has been a long time since a book did that to me, and I didn’t mind. Thus is the genius that lies within Lisa Heatfield’s brain.
June’s life at home with her stepmother and stepsister is a dark one – and a secret one. She is trapped like a butterfly in a net.
But then June meets Blister, a boy in the woods. In him she recognises the tiniest glimmer of hope that perhaps she can find a way to fly far, far away from her home and be free. Because every creature in this world deserves their freedom . . . But at what price?
June is in an impossible situation. She’s scared, feeling betrayed and finding it impossible to talk to anyone about it. But then when she finally does, who actually listens? It’s such brave, beautiful writing.
What worked for me?
June – I loved her character. I was ready to take the punches alongside her. She’s a wonderfully well-rounded and intelligently written character. She makes mistakes, and she makes really great decisions too, but either way the reader is still rooting for her.
The setting – it’s simple. The characters rarely go much further than two places but it feels like they conquer the world in that small bubble. They do go further afield, but I felt like the main action and anything important happened closer to home. It’s also quite nameless, if that makes sense? I could easily imagine June and Blister’s favourite meeting spot down the road from me. And I’ve seen houses like hers a million times over. That’s part of the beauty of this book, I think. Everything feels like it is written in a way that makes it an immersive and identifiable experience for the reader.
The theme(s) – mainly child abuse and a fractured home life. This is main crux of the story. I think for some people it might be too much to read. Like, if you haven’t experienced anything similar, or been exposed to those situations or occurrences. Or maybe if you’re of a softer nature. I’m not sure. I just know that from what I’ve read from some reviews, a small handful of readers couldn’t see passed those moments between June and Kathleen.
Also, I thought this book handled racial prejudice in a very real and well thought of way. Children can be awful to other children, and often it’s because of what they have seen or have been taught by their parents. But also, never underestimate the capacity for cruelty in a child. That moral compass has not been fully developed yet.
Similarly, you should never underestimate the capacity for kindness in a child too. Characters like Helen and Blister (and his family) restore a kind of balance in the story.
Blister – is one amazing dude. Home schooled, a little rough around the edges, but so loyal and good. He’s not without his flaws, true. But he never gives up, and I loved that about him.
If it were me
This is a new section where I speculate ‘if it were me’ writing this book, would I do anything differently? Read more about the decision to include it here.
I really liked how the narrative is framed by a different version of June than in the main parts of the story (I don’t want to give anything away, so I’m describing it weird…) However, I found this ‘other’ June a little jarring when inserted within the course of the story too. If it were me, I’d have kept her at the beginning and then work up towards meeting her at the end.
But it’s not me. And I didn’t write this book.
I feel like this book has the potential to do so much good for individuals suffering the same. Or just helping to empower the voiceless, regardless of the situation. The thing that I love the most about this book is that at no point does it give in to a ‘Happily Ever After’ or ‘revenge is mine’ mindset. It’s very real in that June’s circumstances get worse, and worse, and even worse before they get even slightly better. I liked that realistic approach.
‘Paper Butterflies’ is an emotional and evocative read. It is not, however, without hope or beauty. June is a strong character and I hope others will come to appreciate how intelligently written her story is.
‘Paper Butterflies’ is available from Electric Monkey (Egmont) from 30th June. I obtained this e-arc from NetGalley, with thanks. Opinions are all my own.