Review: Paper Butterflies


‘What’s it about,’ he asked me when he came to save me and take me for vin chaud, and then ‘Jesus Christ’ when I told him.
‘What happens in the end?’
I don’t know,’ I told him, ‘I’ve got a few percent left to go.’
Then a pause….’is it not a true story?’
‘No.’

And then he laughed, because (and this is not the first time this has happened) it's apparently hilarious that I can get so emotionally attached to things and people that aren’t even real, except of course they totally are real in my head and I kind of feel like it’s a testament to how good a book is, if it can move me like that.

& I mean sure I was feeling a little bit emotionally fragile before I started this book and that might have possibly been a contributing factor to the mess I was when I finished it but fuck, I was not ok. It got under my head – which was totally a typo but which I am leaving because it made me eyeroll at myself and is clearly a combination of under my skin and inside my head and as it did both those things I feel like that’s ok. Anyhow, it got to me and that makes it really hard to review and made it really hard to rate because did I like it? Nope. No, I didn’t. Do I think it’s really freaking good? Yes, damn straight I do. & you know, read it (not you Helen, not ever you Jesus Christ you’ll be like Alice swimming in her own tears) but wait please until you are the most emotionally stable you’ve ever been.

This book – which is about a teenage girl called June who is suffering this awful abuse from her stepmother and who is trapped and suffocating and is so lost and so desperate that it crushes your chest almost to read it, who meets this boy, Blister, and gets a taste of what life should be like – it scared me.

It scared me because somehow when I was reading it I was June and that shows incredible skill as a writer but it’s a skill I kind of wish was less because it hurt. It moves from ‘Before’ to ‘After’ and back again and you don’t know really what ‘After’ is but you kind of have an idea and the whole entire thing, it’s heart-breaking – June’s stepmother who’s just evil, her stepsister who is an accomplice in the torture and it’s very questionable as to how unwitting an accomplice she is, and her Dad, who in some fucked up way is as bad if not worse because even though he loves June and even though he never actually participates he’s so blind to it all and yak, it’s all so terrible.  I mean the abuse June suffers hurt me, but her Dad, he just made me so angry, so angry it made my eyes sting.  

I think it’s about failure this book – about failure and the devastating power of a lie because let’s be honest here, is there anything more terrifying than telling the truth and not one. single. person. believing you? What do you even begin to do in that situation, when the worst things are happening and the people you’re supposed to trust don’t believe you. What are you supposed to do? & where is the line between right and wrong and victim and perpetrator and oh, so many of the questions.
It ripped out my soul this book, it made me question all that is good and right in the world and the unfairness (and fuck if unfairness isn’t a strong enough word) of the whole damn thing just shattered me. It’s powerful writing  - more powerful than Seed and I thought that was pretty impressive - and it really is phenomenal writing. I might have given it 5 stars except for you know, it broke me. The story is (devastating) well considered and sensitive and honest – sometimes brutally. The characters are well developed; seriously, this is villainy at its best, and the whole slow development of June’s friendship with Blister will burn you with its simple beauty and the language has moments of sheer gorgeousness. 

If you can see past the fact that the subject matter means this is one of the hardest books you’ll read for a while, then it’s absolutely worth giving it a go. I’d say I’m glad I did, but I’m not sure I’m quite there yet.



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