review: The knife and the butterfly

“An unflinching portrait with an ending that begs for another reading.” ~Kirkus

title: The knife and the butterfy

author: Ashley Hope Perez

date: 2012, Carolrhoda Lab Books

main character: Martin Azael Arevalo

The plot seems simple: where is Azael? He walks us through his own memories of how he got wherever he is, what his life has been like and some of his most recent memories with quite vivid descriptions of the places and people that surround him. As a tagger, Azeal is used to paying attention to visual details.

Azael spends his time observing Lexi, a girl he’s certain he doesn’t know. Yet, she holds the key to knowing where he is.

Azael and his brother raised themselves after their mother died and father was deported. They took to the streets and joined MS-13, a notorious gang. Alexi and her mother have lived in 19 homes in 10 years. She, like Azael turns to the streets for some stability. They both live lives that are easier to judge than to understand. Rather than describing the world to us, author Ashley Perez carries us into it. I know Perez doesn’t believe in glossaries but,  non Spanish speakers would benefit from one with this book that doesn’t always provide context for clear meaning.

Perez recreates the past through Azael’s flashbacks and Lexi’s observation sessions. Azael uses his street smarts to provide an immediate evaluation of Lexi but he doesn’t totally discount her based upon his findings; he want’s, needs to know more. Perez manages to develop two very strong characters in this process even though she’s giving us Lexi through Azeael’s perceptions. She gives us a message there on judging people without really knowing them and this message in pronounced in what we find out about Theo.

Throughout the story there is a light-handed presence of faith. From the use of names to the religious imagery, Perez seems to say we’re more than our emotions and our humanity. In her Author’s Note, she states “…The Knife and the Butterfly is not a story of courtroom drama; the trials that interest me most take place in the human heart.”

I couldn’t help but wonder about the names in the story, and particularly what they mean. I think they mean Perez layers story and meaning quite well.

Azael: “whom God strengthens”

Lexi: “defender of men”

Gab, Gabriel: “God is my might”

Rebecca: “to tie”

Jason: “a healing”

Shauna: God is gracious

Theo: “gift of God”

Martin: from the God Mars (God of War)

As for the meaning of the knife and the butterfly, you’ll have to read the book.

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