The Butterfly Clues by Kate Ellison
Penelope (Lo) Marin has always loved to collect beautiful things. Her dad’s consulting job means she’s grown up moving from one rundown city to the next, and she’s learned to cope by collecting (sometimes even stealing) quirky trinkets and souvenirs in each new place–possessions that allow her to feel at least some semblance of home.
But in the year since her brother Oren’s death, Lo’s hoarding has blossomed into a full-blown, potentially dangerous obsession. She discovers a beautiful, antique butterfly pendant during a routine scour at a weekend flea market, and recognizes it as having been stolen from the home of a recently murdered girl known only as “Sapphire”–a girl just a few years older than Lo. As usual when Lo begins to obsess over something, she can’t get the murder out of her mind.
As she attempts to piece together the mysterious “butterfly clues,” with the unlikely help of a street artist named Flynt, Lo quickly finds herself caught up in a seedy, violent underworld much closer to home than she ever imagined–a world, she’ll ultimately discover, that could hold the key to her brother’s tragic death.
This book had an interesting premise, but turned out to just be an okay read, at least for me personally. There were some things that drove me crazy throughout, and the mystery seemed a bit weak (and the author a bit heavy-handed with the foreshadowing), which combined to make this just an “eh” kind of book. Decent enough, I guess, but nothing to really write home about.
Here’s the synopsis: Penelope (called Lo) is a high school junior suffering from OCD and Kleptomania. Her family has fallen apart since the death of her older brother, Oren; mom spends her time in a haze of anti-depressants and sleeping pills, and her dad works 16+ hours a day. Lo’s OCD has been allowed to run completely unchecked, to the point where she can barely function in the regular world. She has all these eccentricities (which became utterly annoying to read about throughout the course of the book) and things that she “has” to do, like doing things in threes, saying “tap, tap, tap, banana” every time she exits and enters a room or building, and tapping constantly on her body with her fingers. (Needless to say, the “tap, tap, tap, banana” became absolutely irritating; this was probably the point, and probably says that the author has correctly demonstrated how debilitating OCD can be, but by the end of the book I was just thoroughly fed up.) Lo winds up getting involved in the murder of a stripper named Sapphire, who was murdered in her house in a part of Cleveland called Neverland. She can’t let Sapphire’s murder go, and winds up getting involved so deeply that her own life is being threatened for pretty much the entire book. During her time in Neverland she meets Flynt, a homeless artsy-type, who she’s instantly attracted to, and who goes back and forth between helping her figure out what happened to Sapphire and trying to warn her off (not to mention lying to her for the greater portion of the story as well).
Aside from the absolute irritation that was Lo’s mental illness, I had other issues with this book, namely that I figured out who the villain was about midway through, and also figured out the truth about Lo’s brother, both of which take her the ENTIRE BOOK to discover. This was definitely a weakness in the author’s writing, because she basically hit you over the head with the foreshadowing, which definitely weakened the story. I also had a severe problem with Lo’s parents, who allowed the death of their son to completely overshadow everything else, to the point that neither one of them were any kind of parent to Lo, who definitely needed them to help keep her stealing and whatnot in check. Lo’s also walking around with some significant guilt related to her brother’s death, which she hasn’t told anyone about. To say that Lo would benefit from a good therapist and some medication is probably obvious, but aside from trying one type of medication, which she didn’t like because it turned her into a zombie like her mother, none of them have done anything to try to help her. The ending was slightly uplifting in that her father realizes that things can’t continue on as they’ve been, and seems to actively be trying to make life better, which, you know, yay for that, I guess.
The problem with this book is that Lo puts herself in danger pretty much the entire book, going so far as to pretend to be an exotic dancer looking for work. She’s not terribly intelligent in that department, and definitely wouldn’t be a good role model for teenage girls reading this book. Lo is pretty much the ideal of what NOT to do, in fact. I’m not sure I could recommend this book to a teen without first having a conversation with them about Lo’s issues and the mistakes she makes throughout. This is not to say that every single book anyone reads has to have an upstanding main character, because that’s untrue, but I wouldn’t want anyone to think that the way Lo behaves is okay. I don’t know. This book definitely left me with mixed feelings.
I will say that I really liked the cover, though, and felt it was especially appropriate for this book. So, well done to whomever chose the cover art, at least!