About the Book

Title: The Knife and the Butterfly
Published: 2012
Swoonworthy Scale: 3

Cover Story: Simple And Spot-on
BFF Charm: Nay/Yay
Talky Talk: Straight Up
Bonus Factors: Gang Life, H-town’s Many Facets, Kickass Gram Award
Relationship Status: Thinking About Marrying Into The Family

Cover Story: Simple And Spot-on

This cover’s design is a bit sparse, with just the stylized bracket-type things containing the title. I originally liked it because it’s simple, and maybe looks like I’m reading some sort of book about samurais, which might trick some stranger into thinking I’m the kind of person who reads books about samurais, even though I’m not, and then I’d have pulled one over on a stranger and I could quietly feel superior to that stranger, like, “ha ha, person I don’t know! You thought I was reading a book about samurais but I’m NOT! My book is better than that! So stick THAT in your pipe and smoke it!” I don’t know why I’m feeling such antagonism for this fictional stranger, but S/HE SHOULDN’T MAKE ASSUMPTIONS, OKAY?

Also I liked this cover because I thought the font was super cool, but I really liked the whole thing even more when I read the book and realized just how spot-on the cover actually is. It’s like the person who designed the cover might actually have read the book! I KNOW. CRAZY, RIGHT?

The Deal:

Sixteen year old Azael wakes up in a jail cell, last night’s gang fight mostly a confusing haze. He remembers some parts of the evening – how he and his boys thought to teach a rival gang a little lesson, how the rival gang came a bit more prepared than Azael had assumed. But the rest is mostly just fog. Obviously he got picked up, though, since he’s now locked up – only no one in this jail seems concerned with giving him his due process. No phone call. No public defender. No news from the outside. Instead, he has to observe the girl’s side of juvie.

What might sound like heaven to any other boy locked up in juvie turns out to be only more puzzling to Azael. Most days, he’s forced to observe Lexi Allen, a strung-out white chick who’s been locked up for reasons Azael doesn’t understand. He watches her in therapy; he watches her with her lawyer. But he just doesn’t figure out what they’re both doing there, or why his guards are making him observe her. . . even though he’s pretty sure he’s seen her before.

BFF Charm: Nay/Yay

BFF Charm that says "denied"

Hear me out, because I’m going to confess something to you guys right now. I’m a snob. I’m pretentious and kind of a jerk, and I don’t like most people I meet. (People who I have met: if I’ve spoken to you of my own free will for more than two minutes, then I like you, trust.) And I can tell you that, in high school, were I just to pass either Lexi or Azael in the halls (when they show up), I’d avert my eyes and hurry past. High school Me was certainly nothing to brag about (the most popular crowning achievement for High School Erin came the day it turned out some kid brought a hit list to school and I was pretty high on it. Trust me, the fact that someone even noticed me enough to want to kill me after he’d killed a few other people first was kind of The Shit.), but I still would have looked down on Lexi and Azael. Lexi’s a bit strung-out, hooked on Xanax and attaches herself to the first guy who will show her any attention. (Holy shit, Lexi is totally the working class Lady Edith. Maybe I would like her on sight, then!) Azael is in a gang, cuts class and spends all his time spraying graffiti on anything that stands still long enough. Trouble, right?

Yay BFF Charm

Except, they’re both so great, really. They have their problems – Lexi is the product of an affair and her dad mostly keeps her as (one of his many) a dirty little secret. Her mom is . .. not even worth taking up space to mention. She’s moved around most of her life and now she’s stuck at Lamar High School in Houston, which is kind of like Houston’s version of Neptune High on Veronica Mars. You only go there if your parents are super rich . . . or if your parents work for the super rich. She’s insecure, she has no one but her grandmother looking out for her, and she has no idea where she fits in.

And Azael, oh! Azael. I’m in LOVE with this boy, y’all. Yeah, he’s in a gang and he’s always finding trouble, but he’s also homeless (the heartbreaking circumstances of which I’ll let the book get into) and fiercely loyal and one hell of a good boyfriend, as it turns out. He’s lost and looking for some sort of permanence, just like Lexi is. As a person who has always had permanence and therefore never needs to question it, the two of them just broke my heart into pieces.

So, yeah. It turns out that, once I got to know them, I’d totally offer Lexi and Azael my BFF charms. And a place to stay. And an adoption certificate. And a tray of brownies. And a warm blanket, and a friendly shoulder to cry on. They need all that, and more.

Swoonworthy Scale: 3

There’s actually no swoon in this book – Azael is only observing Lexi, so she isn’t really aware he exists. There isn’t a romantic tension, even though they are connected in some way. But some of Azael’s ponderings in prison lead him to reminisce about his girlfriend Becca and the relationship they had, and DAMN! I just gotta say, Azael’s got some moves for a teenage boy!

Talky Talk: Straight Up

This is the second book that Ashley Perez has written (I reviewed her first, What Can’t Wait, and guess what, you guys! It made the ALA Best Fiction for YA list! Thanks for listening to me, ALA! Or, like, reading the book and judging it yourself, I guess, also.) and she is getting even stronger as a writer. She doesn’t dumb down her language but she doesn’t inflate it either- her teenagers sound like teenagers. But they also sound like the kind of teenagers we don’t get to read much about in YA fiction. Sometimes, y’all, I just get so sick of upper-middle-class white girls that I could fucking scream.

Perez isn’t afraid to make her characters sound gritty and unpolished, and even when I wince at Azael’s language at times, I celebrate the fact that I’m lucky enough to read it. But it’s not all sadness and grit – I got some genuine laughs, too:

Maribel was the one who gave me the idea for the butterfly necklace. I needed something for Becca’s birthday anyway, and Wal-Mart had a couple. I picked the shiniest one. It was silver with little diamonds at the corners of the wings and all along the center. When the lady who opened the display case went to help somebody else, I palmed the butterfly necklace and slipped a cheap-o piece from one of the racks in its place. I was out the door before anyone noticed what was up. Anyway, I was changing for Becca, for myself even, but not for Wal-Mart.

Bonus Factor: Gang Life

I’m not condoning being in gangs, obvs! But this book paints an authentic portrayal of gang life – why people join, why they stay – while offering up hope for a better ending. That’s not to say that the book panders – it just offers up the possibility for something else, something more. More than that, though, it puts an authentic face on one of the scariest gangs populating the Southern United States (and sort of strangely, Toronto. I wasn’t aware Canada had crime.) today.

Bonus Factor: H-town’s Many Facets

The downtown Houston skyline behind a park with cyclists

Houston gets a bum rap in most of America (not to mention the rest of the world), but that’s just cause HATERS GONNA HATE. Houston’s awesome! It has everything you’d find in a big city- great food, great theatre, concerts, nightlife, plus the possibility of contracting West Nile! But one of my favorite things about Houston is that it has no zoning laws – in other words, you can pretty easily find a strip joint a mile from a church and a school across the street from a bar. And I love that; it’s real life, you know? Something that really struck me about this book was how it opened my eyes to an even newer side of Houston. The book focuses on the MS13, and it was eye-opening to think about that aspect of my city as well. In fact, I finished this book right before going to my friend’s super swank housewarming party in his super swank new house . . . located only a few blocks from where the gang fight in The Knife and the Butterfly went down. That night, and since, I’ve been looking at my world with new eyes – and that’s what a book should make you do.

Bonus Factor: Kickass Gram Award

Jenifer Lewis as Ruby, a sassy Black grandmother on Black-ish

Big ups to Lexi’s grandmother, who is the only person in Lexi’s family who seems to care about her at all. She’s kind and understanding – the kind of Christian who, when she says she’ll pray for you, means it in the nice way. Plus she smuggles Lexi baked goods into jail. That’s a grandma you can count upon!

Casting Call:

You guys. I seriously IMDB’d for an HOUR trying to cast this movie. AN HOUR. Can YOU find any teenaged actors of South American descent or actresses who are 10 to 15 pounds overweight? BECAUSE I CAN’T. Seriously. Please, someone find me some suggestions because right now HOLLYWOOD IS MAKING ME ANGRY.

Relationship Status: Thinking About Marrying Into The Family

I’ll be honest, Book; I was a little nervous to read you. It’s just that I love your older cousin SO MUCH, you know? Like, she really gets me! And I thought maybe you wouldn’t get me the same way, and things would be awkward, and then I’d be really sad. But I shouldn’t have worried. Sure, Book, you and your cousin aren’t really alike, but it turns out I love you just as much! You’re hard and a little tough and I wasn’t sure if I could break through to you, but then wouldn’t you know it, after a little bit of time had passed I found myself incredibly compelled by your story.

Book, you and I have lived two different lives in the same city, but knowing you has made me a better person already. I can’t wait to introduce you to everyone I know, and tell them that I’m marrying into your family for life. I mean, if that one lady could marry two of the Jackson Five, surely I can marry you and your cousin, right? Right. It should be fine. And who cares if everyone else doesn’t understand – you and I know that what we have is pretty damn special.

FTC Full Disclosure: I received my free review copy from Carolrhoda LAB (who, as an aside? Are KILLING IT lately with the books they’re publishing!). I received neither money nor drinks for this review (damnit)! The Knife and the Butterfly will be released in February . . .

Erin is loud, foul-mouthed, an unrepentant lover of trashy movies and believes that champagne should be an every day drink.