Penelope “Lo” Marin has always liked order. Since her brother’s death Lo has needed more than her rituals to bring order to the chaos of day-to-day life. Her collections of beautiful things, arranged perfectly around her room, make Lo feel better. They’ll never erase the gaping hole her brother left behind, but they help clear her head. At least until she sees another item she has to have for her room. Then nothing will quiet her head until the object is hers.
Wandering Cleveland’s Neverland searching for traces of her brother’s last days as well as objects for her room, Lo stumbles upon something she was never meant to see.
It’s all tied to a beautiful butterfly charm she finds at a flea market and the butterfly’s last owner–a girl named Sapphire who was murdered days before the butterfly makes its way to Lo. Convinced that finding the butterfly means something, that she is connected to Sapphire against all odds, Lo works to unravel the mysterious circumstances surrounding Sapphire’s death.
The deeper Lo delves into the murder, the more questions she unearths. What does Sapphire have to do with the alluring street artist who seems so eager to help Lo? Why did someone want Sapphire dead?
If she keeps searching, Lo hopes ordering all of the clues will lead to an answer and give her (and Sapphire) some peace. But that’s going to be as hard as it is for Lo to keep her rituals in check when someone in Cleveland wants Lo’s investigation stopped for good in The Butterfly Clues (2012) by Kate Ellison.
The Butterfly Clues is Ellison’s first novel.
It becomes obvious early in the narrative that Lo’s collecting, rituals, and habits are symptoms of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Ellison does a good job making Lo a relatable heroine, habits and all, but that only goes so far when every page has Lo tapping or counting in some way to get through her day.
However, while Ellison delves into the whys behind Lo’s OCD behaviors for most of the novel, some of Lo’s choices make little sense given not just her OCD but also common sense.* Though many of these decisions are crucial to the plot, they often pulled me out of the narrative as I found myself wondering what Lo could possibly be thinking.
Lo is a generally likable and sympathetic narrator so it’s easy to let that go. Seeing her broken family and Lo’s struggle to keep her OCD in check is heartbreaking and extremely compelling.
Unfortunately a shaky plot does little to strengthen The Butterfly Clues. Parts of the story are drawn out and seemingly superfluous to the actual plot instead serving only to lengthen the text. On the other hand key aspects of the actual mystery are obvious early on as Lo explores Neverland. Ellison demonstrates a lot of range in this debut and while I would have liked more mystery and less OCD, The Butterfly Clues is a definite clue that Ellison is an author to watch.
*The idea that Lo would have no problem with the germs and dirt inherent to Neverland’s homeless community–even Flynt–seemed extremely unlikely to me. Other–more spoilery–moments also defied all believability for me.
Possible Pairings: Frost by Marianna Baer, Clarity by Kim Harrington, Slide by Jill Hathaway, Imaginary Girls by Nova Ren Suma, Wild Awake by Hilary T. Smith, Wherever Nina Lies by Lynn Weingarten