Butterflies by Susanne Gervay

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Butterflies tells the story of Katherine, a seventeen-year-old Italian-Australian girl who is still disfigured after falling into a fire pit when she was three years old.

Butterflies is told through a combination of Katherine’s tumultuous and sometimes disconnected thoughts, recollections of events in the past – how she was burnt, time in hospitals – and Katherine’s present life. I thought this was a really beautiful novel; written prettily but simply, and I found Katherine to be a layered and interesting character – not just a burns victim, but also a teenage girl, an Italian-Australian, who fiercely refuses to be called ‘disabled’. The other characters were kind to her but they still fought – her mother, older sister Rachel, friend Jessie – and Katherine also struggled within herself, making for an often sad, but ultimately heart-warming, novel.

There were only a couple of things that threw me off – firstly, Katherine was really quite stubborn. It took me a while to warm to her, but her struggles with her burns and operations, and poor self-image made her occasional sharpness understandable, and by the time the novel ended, I was really happy for the way things worked out for her. Secondly, I really felt it should have been in first person – the way the novel jumps between her inner dialogue and third person descriptions of her day to day life distracted me, and I wish the novel had have stayed in Katherine’s head the whole way through.

Apart from those two, minor things, this is a really lovely novel, written almost lyrically, and Katherine is a relatable character – stubbornness and all – who you really feel for, the further you get into the novel. Even though the majority of readers of this book wouldn’t have burns covering their body, the things that Katherine experiences – pressures from her mother, friends, exams – are all very ordinary, and stuff that teenage readers will understand, especially Katherine’s struggles with self-esteem and self-image (that’s something, I think, that affects everyone).

Overall, Butterflies offers a fascinating insight into life as a burns victim, as well as that of a teenager, and is told wonderfully. I think this would really appeal to teenage girls.

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