The Knife and the Butterfly by Ashley Hope Pérez

After a marijuana-addled brawl with a rival gang, 16-year-old Azael wakes up to find himself surrounded by a familiar set of concrete walls and a locked door. Juvie again, he thinks. But he can’t really remember what happened or how he got picked up. He knows his MS13 boys faced off with some punks from Crazy Crew. There were bats, bricks, chains. A knife. But he can’t remember anything between that moment and when he woke behind bars. 

Azael knows prison, and something isn’t right about this lockup. No phone call. No lawyer. No news about his brother or his homies. The only thing they make him do is watch some white girl in some cell. Watch her and try to remember. 

Lexi Allen would love to forget the brawl, would love for it to disappear back into the Xanax fog it came from. And her mother and her lawyer hope she chooses not to remember too much about the brawl—at least when it’s time to testify. 

Lexi knows there’s more at stake in her trial than her life alone, though. She’s connected to him, and he needs the truth. The knife cut, but somehow it also connected

SPOILERS

So first thing’s first – I received a copy of this book in a giveaway hosted by The Booksmugglers, which makes me very happy as I barely ever win those sorts of things. I really enjoyed Ashley Hope Pérez’s post about being inspired by the students she had taught and specifically writing her books for them that they would enjoy reading. Having now read the book in question, her inspiration rings through loud and clear.

Azael was one of those characters whose voice is engaging and who I felt empathy for, but in the meantime, I wanted to hit him for some of the things he says, primarily the misogynistic comments. Still, there’s this really good balance between all these different aspects that make up who he is – being part of the MS13 and the violence and crime that goes along with it, his tough-guy attitude, his love for his girlfriend Becca and his little sister.He’s also someone I admired in a way because he makes no apology for who he is. The point isn’t for the reader to judge him for his story, but to sit back and take it as it comes. I really liked Azael’s passion for graffiti and how he uses it as a way to make his mark on the world, even if it isn’t permanent. He pretty much is the story, and so the world of this book is literally the one he describes in vivid detail.

Lexi was actually the harder of the two characters to like, simply because we see right through Azael’s posturing to what he’s thinking, whereas we see only see Lexi through Azael, whose opinion of her isn’t complimentary, to say the least. Also, she doesn’t really become fleshed out until Azael gets her journal. Afterwards, she ends up looking somewhat similar to Azael because, like him, she makes no apologies or excuses for things she or other have done.She’s a bitch and she embraces that. In the end, Ashley Hope Pérez did a terrific job with both characters; each of them are a blend of several good and bad parts, and neither of them are defined by one side more than the other.

Also, the writing was excellent. Granted, the book itself is pretty short, but I still zipped right through it in a matter of hours. It grips you and doesn’t let go, but it’s also really clear and has some beautiful phrases. Going back to Azael’s voice, there are some great metaphors and comparisons that fit so well with it such that I can’t imagine anyone one else saying them. I actually tend not to stop and notice individual passages and sentences because I’m too busy focusing on the story rather than the words themselves, but as soon as I started reading, I ended up paying them more mind than I usually do.

There was one thing I ended up not liking. I really enjoyed reading the story, I didn’t care for the overall structure with which the story was told. We learn in the end that Azael has died and is suspended in a limbo state where he struggles to remember how and why he died and how it all relates back to Lexi. As has been previously established with regards to time travel, I am not a fan of speculative or speculative-like elements being integral parts of the plot without any context or explanation. I know structures like this been used many times before in books, but more often then not, they distract me from the actual content of the story by making me ask why it’s needed. Obviously for the story to work on Lexi’s side, Azael needs to be dead, but I didn’t see how this benefited Azael’s side.

All in all though, I definitely enjoyed reading this book. Ashley Hope Pérez created some excellent characters in Azael and Lexi and I love her writing. I was less OK with the actual execution of the frame with which the story was told, but since the story is primarily character-based, this isn’t a huge issue. Essentially this is a perfect example of a book where the main character and the story intertwine such that one can’t exist without the other. It’s good stuff.

Disclosure – won

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