Paper Butterflies is a book I absolutely loved. But, it is also a book I absolutely despised. A book I will never, ever, read or touch ever again. It was without a doubt the “hardest” read of my life, a haunting book that took away my sleep, my appetite and my good mood.
I am assuming this precisely was the author’s goal. Heathfield created such a terrifying, haunting story and chose to narrate it in a very gripping and heart-breaking way. The story focuses on June, a black girl who – after her mother’s death – lives with her white father, stepmother and stepsister. The kids in school are cruel, tormenting June in every way possible, physically and emotionally attacking her, a constant abuse that is not unrelated to her race and her standing out in predominantly white school. But her suffering never ends; under the radar of a clueless father, June’s sufferings never seem to end in the hands of a cruel stepmother and a stepsister. And she can’t find a way out, can’t find anyone to talk to. Because no one will believe her.
And then she meets Blister; a boy in the woods, whose presence in her life is a glimmer of hope and the only good thing in her life. Paper Butterflies is a book about family, helplessness and hopelessness, the cycles of abuse and violence. It is a book where every adult or authority figure completely fails June, fails to protect and save her. The narration alternates between “Before” and “After”, without the reader knowing what caused this split.
The book asks many questions, questions that it doesn’t answer. What happened to Kathleen – June’s stepmom – to make her this way? Was Megan – June’s stepsister – a victim, just like June? Did her father’s neglect and failure to see what was right in front of him what actually hurt June the most? And what, really, happened to her mom? Could Blister’s family have helped her?
June’s story is a suffocating one. I kept reading – as fast as I could – searching for redemption, justice, salvation. That’s not what the book offers. Until the very last page, all you get is a story so hopeless, so unfair that you keep crying and crying, almost screaming for justice, spiralling deeper into a very emotional, gut-wrenching story. Without giving away anything, I will say that it tackles one of the most controversial issues of today’s societies and I hope that reading this book will change many people’s opinions.
Paper Butterflies is a horrifying, twisted book; but it’s also a very powerful one. It’s a very terrifying thing; not being able to tell the truth, because no one will believe you. Through her simple writing and sentence structure, through complicated and outstanding characters, Heathfield has written a magnificent book, a so mesmerizing one that you almost fail to separate from reality.
**A copy was provided via Netgalley in exchange of an honest review **
***Trigger warnings for scenes of physical and emotional ab*se***