Book Review: The Butterfly Girl by Rene Denfeld

This week I finished my most recent audio book after a very stressful weekend working in the ER. Covid-19 has been wrapping up much of my mind and making me incredibly stressed out. I have a long drive to and from work on the weekends and listening to audiobooks has helped me decompress some of these worries. When I chose The Butterfly Girl by Rene Denfeld, I did so because the cover was beautiful.

I had a very dry period where I was unable to focus long enough to read a book, which was a trauma unto itself, but found my way back. Because of this long hiatus I lost touch with new authors and what was being published. Books these days can be a crap shoot. Many of the audiobooks I choose are based on the cover. I remember 20 years ago I spent an entire year choosing books this way. It was an incredible journey learning about new genres and writers. It helped me to jump out of my comfort zone. I was not disappointed this time either.

The Butterfly Girl is a book that has two narratives that not only cross each other, but unfold together in the most touching and beautiful way. Naomi is an investigator who works on missing children’s cases. She does this because she too was once abducted, along with her younger sister, and held captive in a bunker under strawberry fields. The sisters were orphans to start and once they were missing awhile, the search went cold. Naomi escaped her captor, but was unable to save her sister and spent the rest of her life searching for her. The hard part was, she couldn’t even remember her name.

The other narrative is about Celia, a twelve-year-old girl living on the streets on a skidrow in Oregon. Her mother is an addict and her step-father sexually assaulted her. After a series of abuses, Celia had the courage to tell someone about the abuse. Teddy, the step-father, gets arrested, but somehow convinces the jury that the child was a liar and gets set free. Celia, unable to live in the house anymore in fear of more abuse, runs away leaving her younger sister to fend for herself, much like Naomi did hers. 

Each of these main characters has something to hold onto. A sister. Naomi spends all her focus on finding the nameless sister which leads her to a town in Oregon. This is the same town that Celia lives in and on the streets is where they continue to cross paths. There are hard moments in this book as both Naomi and Celia recall the travesties done to them. It broke my heart and made me cry. I know there are children like this on the street everywhere, every day.

Rene Denfeld captures the essence of the hardship of life on the street and a life of abuse. The magical part of this book is Celia’s coping mechanism which lends the title of the book,The Butterfly Girl. Before Celia’s mother became an addict, leaving Celia to survive on her own, she had wanted to be a lepidopterist. She had shared her love of butterflies with Celia.

Throughout the book Celia visits the library to read about butterflies and sees them everywhere. They guide her away from danger and comfort her heart in the darkest times. It is a visual hope that life will once again be something she could trust.

The imagery in The Butterfly Girl is at times somber, but also beautiful in the delicate way each of these main characters see the world around them. They are cautious observers of their environments. This book was fast paced and well worth the listen as I’m sure it would be well worth the read.

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