Book Review: The Butterfly Clues
By: Kate Ellison
Published By: EgmontUSA
Publication Date: February 14, 2012
Page Count: 336
Source: Provided by Publisher via NetGalley
Audience: YA - Mystery, Thriller
The Butterfly Clues is a superb first novel by 2012 debut author, Kate Ellison. You never know what to expect from the new kids on the YA fiction block, but Ellison is definitely an author to watch. The Butterfly Clues is a dark, haunting mystery. Lo, the main character, is an unlikely detective whose OCD compels her to complete odd rituals and forces her one track mind to see things through until completion. Things take a sinister turn for Lo when she becomes obsessed with the murder of a local stripper, Sapphire. It turns out that Lo was right outside of her home while Sapphire was being killed. This knowledge spurs Lo into investigating the death in the dangerous neighborhood of Neverland.
This novel is much darker than most YA novels. There are strip clubs, drugs, and street life filling most of the chapters. I enjoyed that Ellison was telling the stories of characters that are often absent from YA fiction. There are so many kids who are living in run down areas of American cities. They have a culture that is unique and largely unexplored in contemporary fiction. I don't think The Butterfly Clues would have been such a powerful novel for me if everything had occurred within Suburbia. This book also does a beautiful job of painting the picture of grief that accompanies families that have suffered a tragic death.
Sapphire's death is really the center of the entire plot. I liked getting to see that Sapphire was more than just a stripper. She was someone special; she was someone who was loved. She had an entire life that was separate from her career. Her life and death really made me stop to think about how people make snap judgments about others that are often wrong and unfair. Ellison also does a great job of using this murder to provide answers to other smaller mysteries within the plot. I had a few suspicions about the identity of the murderer. One of my hunches turned out to be correct, but I loved that it wasn't until the final chapters that this fact became clear for me.
My only complaint about this book is the beginning. Lo's OCD takes some getting used to and her patterns of thought are often influenced by her disorder. Once I was comfortable with Lo as a main character, the story flowed quickly. It just took a little time to settle in. I saw a few reviews on GoodReads before I started this one where people had stopped reading the book after about 50 pages or so. Yes, these first 50 pages drag a bit and it takes some time to sink into the story, but keep with it. It turned out to be an amazing, heart pounding thriller.
If you like murder mysteries and crime dramas - The Butterfly Clues is a must read for you. There are also the elements of trying to find your niche in high school and falling in love for the first time that one would expect from a YA book.
One Last Gripe: It really bothered me that Lo's dad never tried to understand her disorder. He just got angry with her about it.
My Favorite Thing About This Book: Unraveling the mystery with Lo
First Sentence: I spot her out of the corner of my eye and freeze.
Favorite Character: Flynt
Least Favorite Character: Lo's mother
Penelope (Lo) Marin has always loved to collect beautiful things. Her dad's consulting job means she's grown up moving from one rundown city to the next, and she's learned to cope by collecting (sometimes even stealing) quirky trinkets and souvenirs in each new place--possessions that allow her to feel at least some semblance of home.
But in the year since her brother Oren's death, Lo's hoarding has blossomed into a full-blown, potentially dangerous obsession. She discovers a beautiful, antique butterfly pendant during a routine scour at a weekend flea market, and recognizes it as having been stolen from the home of a recently murdered girl known only as "Sapphire"--a girl just a few years older than Lo. As usual when Lo begins to obsess over something, she can't get the murder out of her mind.
As she attempts to piece together the mysterious "butterfly clues," with the unlikely help of a street artist named Flynt, Lo quickly finds herself caught up in a seedy, violent underworld much closer to home than she ever imagined--a world, she'll ultimately discover, that could hold the key to her brother's tragic death.