Thursday, March 1, 2012

A Week with Carolrhoda Lab Review: The Knife and the Butterfly by Ashley Hope Perez

Published February 1, 2012.

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.

I took a huge risk on THE KNIFE AND THE BUTTERFLY and gave it the benefit of the doubt. This whole gang, thug life thing, totally not my bag in the slightest. And characters like this? I pretty much don't give two shits about. But I am SOOOOO glad I took the chance because it ended being worth it and then some just for the ending. Like to the point of me being winded and speechless and not even moving worth it.

Azael is a thug. He's entrenched in gang life and quite frankly, until he really started breaking down in his prison cell and we start delving into his past I didn't feel much for him. He's a punk, someone that's starts ridiculous fights over some imagined blast to his or his friends' pride. At first I was really worried this would be a first for me: the first Carolrhoda Lab book I really didn't like. But once Perez started chipping away at the surface and really started getting into who Azael really was under that whole thug facade it became interesting. His life with MS-13 ended up being akin to addiction. Throughout the book he kept coming back to his girlfriend Becca and how he wanted to get clean for her, actually using those words. But it was always tomorrow, tomorrow, tomorrow. I ended up feeling bad for him because he is so young (15) and once his mom died his childhood pretty much sucked thanks to a selfish father that couldn't get over it enough to take care of his kids.

And then you have Lexi. I found the blurb just a touch misleading because I thought it was going to alternate POVs between Azael and Lexi but it sticks with Azael the whole time although we learn everything about Lexi through him and her journal. We don't really NEED to be in her head because we already kind of are when Azael is doing his observation.

What really bothered me was how quick Azael was to discount Lexi's problems because she's white. That really got under my skin and I wanted to slap him for it. Just because she's fair doesn't mean her life doesn't suck, and it certainly sucked. She was basically pseudo-raised by a mom in denial that had a revolving door of boyfriends, some of which abused her. She acted the only way she really knew how, through sexuality, and the gang life she sought provided her a bit of protection that she couldn't get at home with her mom. They were family where she didn't have any, except for her grandmother, who really tried. That's who Lexi warmed up to the most, that's where she looked to for encouragement or whether she should feel disappointed. Her mom didn't matter but her grandmother did.

The ending was so insanely sudden for me and hit me so profoundly that I actually gasped, my hands started shaking and I didn't know what to do with myself. I've said it before and I'll say it again: I'm not even halfway decent at picking up on twists in plots early in the story so I didn't see it coming AT ALL. And you know what? I'm glad. Because it took me aback so much that I think if I'd guessed before had, it would have ruined the story for me. It would have kept the story an okay story instead of launching it into FUCKING PHENOMENAL territory as it wrapped a rubber band around the whole thing and brought it all together. The ending really did it for me. If it had not ended the way it did I wouldn't have liked the book nearly as much. In fact I can't really imagine it ending any other way because it wouldn't have had nearly the same impact. Flabbergasted. Seriously.

THE KNIFE AND THE BUTTERFLY is not for the faint of heart. It's told through the eyes of a male MS-13 member (for those that don't know, it's a brutal gang based out of Los Angeles) and Perez is not shy about language, sexual innuendo or violence. It's all there, raw and uncensored for you to read and absorb. But she's written it so well that you'd think an actual member wrote it, that the story was coming from someone really living it. And in a way it did as it was inspired by actual events. Perez made me feel for someone that I would rightly brush aside, whose story I wouldn't have even considered before and I thank her deeply for that. Now I'm pretty much screwed because Azael's story was so phenomenal that I don't even know if anything else will compare. I don't know if I want it too.

Ban Factor: High - Gangs, swears, sex? Far too terrible for the eyes of banner babies.
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