Paper Butterflies by Lisa Heathfield

Received from NetGalley for review.

4.5 stars

‘I feel the butterflies’ wings burning. The pain is overwhelming.’

This isn’t the kind of book I can give five stars, because reading it hurt so bad and I felt it all too deeply to say I loved it. But it is excellent – the story, the characters, the complexity of child abuse – Heathfield has explored it all with sensitivity and realism and, despite the lump in my throat, I’m glad she did.

Paper Butterflies tells the story of June, a mixed race girl with an evil stepmother and an emotionally absent father. The story is told from June’s perspective and the narrative switches between ‘Before’ and ‘After’. And wow, did it break my heart. Any story about child abuse or abuse in general will always pull at my heartstrings (as it will for the majority of the human race). This story is not light or cheerful, it is dark and gritty and cruel; Kathleen (June’s stepmother) is truly evil, manipulating the people around her and slyly abusing June, even bringing her own daughter, Megan, into it. It’s a hard read, one that will haunt me for a long time, but it’s also an important one, and one that is filled with that mythical thing – hope. Hope for freedom and safety and truth.

The characters are masterfully crafted. My heart bled for June, who is only a child when the abuse begins. Fair warning, the way June is treated will make your blood boil with how unfair it all is, especially when the adults around her seem blind to what is happening. She lives a terrible life with Kathleen and can’t see an end to her unhappiness until she meets Blister. Blister is adorable. He is so sweet and kind and loving and I was shipping him and June violently throughout the book – he will break your heart in a completely different and beautiful way. Their friendship was a joy to read about and I loved the safe haven it become for June. June’s stepsister is also an interesting character to watch develop, as although she initially seems to go along with her mother in hurting June I couldn’t help but feel there was something deeper going on.

There isn’t an explanation or real insight into why Kathleen is so cruel, but I think we can all assume it’s about the cycle of abuse – she was most likely an abused child herself who continued the pattern, which is always important to consider. Obviously it doesn’t excuse her behaviour but it does give an insight into what might be happening in her head. Oddly enough it was June’s father who frustrated me the most, as he was so blind to what June was going through. He seemed completely emotionally detached and his neglect ultimately made things worse. A lot of the adults in this book are incredibly annoying as they don’t believe June when she tries to tell them things, which obviously ruins her trust and makes her silent. It’s so tragic and I’m not exaggerating when I say that this book broke my heart, I just wanted to scream at it for someone to help June.

I can’t say much more as the end becomes a series of almighty twists and will leave you unsure about what will happen next. I will say this though: this book is incredibly important, for obvious reasons, and less obvious reasons that become clear when it is read. It will rip you apart and break you down, but at its heart there is always the idea of hope and of possibility. Like the cover suggests, just because your wings are broken doesn’t mean you’ll never be able to fly, and that is something we should all remember.

Read: May 7th 2016

4.5/5 stars

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