by Sonya Hartnett
As the stretch limo did its three-point turn from hell outside No 10, Downing St., Mrs. Obama listened to a choir of very young Afro-British girls singing a song of welcome. Their enthusiasm delighted her, and in her speech at the end of her visit she spoke from the heart, without notes. "In the future" she said (more or less), "you must be strong and you must be smart. Always do what you know is right, and don't be afraid to take the reins. Look at me" she said, "there is absolutely nothing in my background to suggest that I would become the wife of the President of the United States." I do hope she reads BUTTERFLY - she could have written it.
BUTTERFLY is about Plum (short for Ariella), who is soon to turn 14. She lives in the uneventful respectability of suburban Melbourne. Typically, she hates her looks, is failing in her bid for peer popularity, and is hyper-critical of her very loving parents. Her elder brothers tease her, and nobody listens to what she says. She is defenceless in her metamorphosis from greedy, unthinking childhood to bewildering, oversensitive puberty. Feeling exposed and inadequate, she seeks the camouflage quite common to young girls: she tries to be like somebody else, or pretends to be something she is not, or just pretends.
Sonya Hartnell writes with assurance, wit and insight about the esoteric metaphysics of growing up, drying out, and learning to fly. It is a well constructed book, uncluttered by gimmicks; the plot is unpredictable and intriguing, the characters are finely drawn, and the reader is swept along at a great pace as the story unfolds.