Butterfly is the first Sonya Hartnett novel I have read even though she is quite a well known and well published Australian author. For some reason I was under the impression that Hartnett was primarily a young adult fiction writer (not that this would have stopped me from picking up her work) but Butterfly is most definitely, I feel, a book for the grown ups.
The main character in Butterfly is the almost 14 year old Ariella Coyle - better known as Plum to her friends and family. Plum is struggling with all of the trappings that are afflicted upon us in early adolescence:
Carefully she scans her face, her shoulders, her waist, grimaces at the sight of a meaty bottom and thighs. Her hands gather her hair in a dense ponytail, and her face, unshielded, looks round and inflames, her eyes the tarred tips of poison darts. Her arms are strong, her neck utilitarian, not vulnerable at all: indeed, Plum's entire body is somehow too much - too tall, too thriving, too there. Her stomach is the colour of uncooked dough, and feels, when poked, like dough. Ariella Coyle, aged nearly fourteen, waylaid monstrously on the path to being grown. "There is no God," she tells her reflection: as quickly as that, she knows it is true. "And even if there was a God, " she adds vindictively, "He wouldn't love you. Look at you. Nobody could love you".
Ahh, the early teenage years - the pain, angst and self-loathing that seems to accompany it all. Plum's thoughts and painful processing certainly made me think back to my early adolescence and there were definitely some connections made with Plum's sufferings. A strength of the novel is the way in which Hartnett captures these feelings and thoughts - quite accurately for me.
Plum is a member of quite a catty, all too real, friendship group of girls - all battling for the same level of acceptance and status within the group. Plum in particular wants to belong and been seen as worthy of the friendships - and goes to quite painful lengths to find this.
At home Plum is the youngest child and only daughter - in some ways living in the shadows of her older, more gifted and attractive older brothers, Justin and Cydar.
As Plum is fighting her way through the rituals of adolescence she makes friends with an older neighbour, the married mother of one, Maureen. What begins as a mentoring relationship for Plum quickly shows itself as something more sinister as the real reason for Maureen befriending Plum becomes clear.
In some ways this book is two or three stories within one - but you never feel as though too much has been taken on by the author. Hartnett balances the characters and the story lines beautifully. This book was not at all what I expected when I started reading it but once I accepted this I enjoyed the rather uneasy storyline. The ending is also an interesting one - I'm still thinking on that one...