Paper Butterflies by Lisa Heathfield
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Release Date: June 30th 2016
My review for Lisa’s debut novel, Seed, can be found here.
Disclaimer: Review copy received in exchange for an honest review.
Paper Butterflies is the story of June, over a period of about 12 years. The story is split between ‘Before’ and ‘After’, with these two time streams intertwining as the story progresses. (I genuinely loved this format – it’s engrossing and clever.)
June’s mother died when she was six, and quickly her stepmother and stepsister moved in. Kathleen, her new stepmother, is the epitome of evil. She force-feeds June, making her overweight, she forces her to vomit and pee herself at school, and she’s an all-round horrible woman. To make matters worse, she plays June’s dad like a fiddle, and June has no-one to turn to – she’s also being horribly bullied at school.
Then June meets Blister (real name: Jacob), and his family. Mr and Mrs Wicks have two biological children (Jacob and Maggie) and five adoptive children, all of whom they teach at home. June has a special bond with Blister’s younger brother, Tom, who has cystic fibrosis.
Paper Butterflies, I think, deals with the difficult topic of child abuse in a good way, although some of the things that happen during the course of the novel are a little unbelievable or illogical (not particularly the abuse June suffers at the hands of Kathleen, but the way June and the other characters act or what happens to her later on in the book).
As the book covers such a long time frame, it doesn’t actually go into too much depth. Themes that start at the beginning of the story (e.g. bullying at school) seem to disappear later on, despite the fact June should still be attending school. Whilst we do have parental figures in this book , they’re pretty relaxed about where June is most of the time (‘cause it’d make a pretty boring book if she was locked up the whole time!). YA has its flaws – and I think one of them has to be that YA novels don’t tend to be long enough to really delve right into the heart of an issue. This means great superficial romances (they’re not long enough for fighting and break-ups), but with some, more serious books, such as this one, I wish they were a little longer, a little more in depth.
I didn’t see the twists and turns coming (in fact, I was completely thrown off course), and I did like the ending, except it suffers massively from what i’m going to call from now on THE GHOST ENDING. Ambiguous endings sometimes (very rarely) work well – they leave you thinking about the issue at hand whilst feeling like the story has come to an end. And then we have the Ghost Ending. This is where the writing just kind of fades away, and you realise there’s not really been a huge conclusion. And you’re not quite sure what’s going to happen next. And you’re never going to find out. I like big, clear endings. With an epilogue, if possible. I like my endings spelt out in big letters – usually HAPPILY EVER AFTER, if we’re talking about YA romance. I don’t like things being left to the imagination, especially when an ending could go any which way and where.
Another thing I dislike in YA novels is the compulsory romance – but I don’t think the romance in this novel felt forced, and the relationship had its flaws. It wasn’t your typical YA insta-love, which is always a bonus.
One thing you should probably think about before diving into this novel is whether you want to read a novel about child abuse. This isn’t your typical YA romance that ends happily ever after (not a bad thing!), it’s a serious novel with a serious message. There’s no sexual abuse of any kind featured in the novel, but there are some pretty haunting scenes, so I’d read this book with that in mind.
Overall, I think this book features an important topic, but it falls into the pitfalls of YA – namely the Ghost Ending and a lack of depth. Other than that, the characters are interesting (they’re diverse, and I loved the inclusion of Tom’s disability), and the story is one of surprises and intrigue. I’m going to have to give this book 3 stars (one star knocked off for the ambiguous ending, and another for the overall lack of depth and realism), but it’s definitely well-worth a read if you’ve enjoyed Seed.