Thursday, February 23, 2012

Book Review: The Knife and the Butterfly by Ashley Hope Perez


After a marijuana-addled brawl with a rival gang, 16-year-old Azael wakes up to find himself surrounded by a familiar set of concrete walls and a locked door. Juvie again, he thinks. But he can't really remember what happened or how he got picked up. He knows his MS13 boys faced off with some punks from Crazy Crew. There were bats, bricks, chains. A knife. But he can't remember anything between that moment and when he woke behind bars.

Azael knows prison, and something isn't right about this lockup. No phone call. No lawyer. No news about his brother or his homies. The only thing they make him do is watch some white girl in some cell. Watch her and try to remember.

Lexi Allen would love to forget the brawl, would love for it to disappear back into the Xanax fog it came from. And her mother and her lawyer hope she chooses not to remember too much about the brawl—at least when it's time to testify.

Lexi knows there's more at stake in her trial than her life alone, though. She's connected to him, and he needs the truth. The knife cut, but somehow it also connected.


Though interesting in concept, with a mildly predictable but still good twist, The Knife and the Butterfly admittedly fell flat for me. My biggest issue was the voice, a male perspective that felt like it was trying entirely too hard. With the amount of focus on sex related stuff even at times that felt completely out of the blue and unnecessary, some of the specific terms used, and an almost overuse of swearing, this one felt like it was forcing both the male mind and the gangbanger elements in an unrealistic way. While I don’t usually have a problem with these elements, it didn’t come off right as fitting even the character here. I had a really hard time getting fully into the book because of this, and though I admit I am really picky on how male voices are done, it was definitely detracting here.

Apart from that, the characterization was, overall, well done. With a narrator who definitely had some issues, and was also in a lot of ways just a boy failed by the system and trying to figure everything out on his own, this one has a few times of tugging at the heart. Intensely loyal to his friends, and still very loving towards his family no matter what’s happened there, Azael has some great standing ground. Lexi, too, had an interesting mindset, with some glimpses straight into her thoughts through journal entries. Though her specific development wasn’t quite as strong as her overall role in the book as Azael’s, she still had some great moments. The way these two interplay is uniquely presented, and there are definitely some creative aspects to this book. While overall, I didn’t really connect to either character, I could definitely see what the author was going for with both characters, and there was some great development in both of them.

Though I figured out what the big twist was well before it happened, Perez still builds to it nicely. Hitting on some rough issues, and unafraid to include some harsh realism, this one definitely has its merits despite the flaws. There are a few elements that will make readers think, and also some emotional and sorrow filled scenes where the writing starts to shine. While I personally had some issues with this one, I still think it’s got some important aspects to it, and is definitely one to be checked out.

Source: ARC received from publisher in exchange for an honest review
Reading Level: 14 and up 
Hardcover: 264 pages 
Publisher: Carolrhoda Books
Publication Date: February 1, 2012

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