I was a little unsure what to expect as I picked up The Butterfly Clues. The premise sounded intriguing, which is what made me grab it in the first place, but I was worried it would be unremarkable in the current flood of YA literature pounding the market. I actually ended up really liking it, but not necessarily for the reasons you might think.
As a crime/mystery novel, it was only moderately compelling. The crimesolving aspects felt a little thin and unbelievable even with a decent suspension of disbelief. Lo, for some reason, ends up on the very bad side of town and doesn't quite witness a murder (she's on the other side of the wall). Due to her OCD nature, she picks up on some of the relevant details from the murder and the victim's belongings such that when she sees the belongings at a swap meet, she is quite literally compelled to try and unravel the clues. That initial catch is pretty interesting, but the way the clue finding and unraveling played out was a little less interesting to me.
The romantic elements in the story also felt a little bit strange and forced. As soon as she met the boy who didn't go running from her quirkiness and who she was legitimately intrigued by, it was obvious that he was going to be the romantic lead. I was glad that the story didn't push too hard for them to get romantic (after all, they're solving a murder), but when it did turn in that direction, it felt awkward.
While the setting fluctuated from non-descript to unbelievable (particularly "Neverland"), I found that I really enjoyed some of the specific environments she described. The concept of Neverland was interesting in a "Gotham City" kind of way. It's kind of like this area of town where the city has just given up. Any homes or businesses there have been abandoned or have become havens for the underbelly of society. It felt gritty and grimy and added to the tension. My only problem was that the believability factor grew a bit thin for me...I've never lived in a big city, but I have a hard time believing that such a large area of town could be as abandoned and derelict as Neverland. Then again, maybe I'm just being naive.
So now that I've mentioned areas that I found just "meh", you might wonder what it was that I found truly exciting.
What really drew me in and kept me going is the characterization, particularly of our narrator "Lo."
Lo is a kleptomaniac with serious OCD and plenty of other emotional and mental baggage. It's apparent that she's had some degree of OCD her whole life but everything sort of went into free fall a year ago when her brother disappeared and was later found dead.
On the surface, this characterization may not sound all that exciting or compelling, but where it really shines is that this is a first-person narrative told by Lo. We get her internal voice...along with all the mental quirks and oddities that go with it.
I'm sure everybody has some compulsive tendencies...but as I read along with Lo, I could really feel the heightened emotions and strain of compulsion as she went through even mundane activities. The author did a great job of creating a unique and consistent voice for Lo through the novel and driving it home strong. I found the experience of living the novel through her eyes absolutely fascinating.
The other characters and settings varied from somewhat flat and static to similarly 3-d and fleshed out. I loved the interactions Lo had with her dad and other adults. Not only for the added tension it gave to her internal monologue but also for what felt like fairly realistic adult responses to her claims and behaviors. The characters who helped her were interesting and fun...almost as quirky as Lo herself.
Thinking back over this book...this certainly isn't the best book I've ever read. It's not "high literature" by any means nor does it necessarily top either the YA lists or the crime/mystery list. Where this book really shines is in developing a stark and unique voice and making it so utterly believable that I could feel myself intently drawn into her mental and emotional instabilities. I absolutely loved the way the narrative was presented and thoroughly enjoyed this fresh presentation of what it means to be OCD.
3.5 out of 5 stars
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