Plum is on the precipice of something, she just doesn't know what. About to turn fourteen, the one thing she wants for her birthday is her very own television, but getting that seems unlikely. She'll settle for a party with all her friends, who she clings to tightly, with fear that they will leave her if she isn't cool enough. While this plot doesn't sound entirely original or especially interesting, in the hands of a very capable writer, Sonya Hartnett, the story soars. Harnett turns the smaller events of life, like a 14th birthday, into moments the reader will contemplate for days.
Immediately, I felt connected to Plum, remembered myself being much like Plum. A girl on the edge of teenagehood, with all the connections to my “childhood” still apparent. For Plum, this line to her childhood, to the behaviors one might accept as a chid which are completely laughable as a teenager, is elucidated in her “treasure box” of sorts, the suitcase she keeps under her bed with ordinary objects that for her, have a magical element to them. They are talismans for her.
The idea that you can change yourself, that you can morph yourself into an entirely new person with the right amount of effort, pervades this book. This is not just Plum’s goal, but also one that her grownup neighbor (Maureen) is contemplating in her affair with Plum’s brother Justin. And it’s something to which all readers can relate. Likewise, the book plumbs the inner lives of people of all ages: kids about to become teens, older teens/young adults, and grownups, and finds all of them complex and often completely delightful.
Plum’s observations are what make her so endearing, so real to readers. As I read this one, I couldn't help underlining my favorite lines. Hartnett is so fantastic at getting into Plum's head, as these random thoughts flit through, some of which are so hilarious that they are so quickly dismissed, not acted on. For example, “Plum pauses—she’s seen people-beasts in movies with horns on their heads, and thinks the look charismatic. Horns would change her life” (p. 10). And also: “Perhaps she should intensify her time with the talismans—wear the badge, carry the coin, fling the yo-yo around. Sleep with them cuddled against her stomach. Maybe she should… eat them.… No” (p. 87).
From start to finish, I loved, loved, loved this book, and can't wait to hand it off to my best friend, my mother. There's something timeless and ageless about this one, and I can't wait to reread it years from now.
Turns out, I'm not the only one who loved it, as it has received a starred review in the July/August issue of Horn Book. Butterfly doesn't hit shelves until August 24, 2010. This review is based off the Advance Reading Copy.