The Butterfly Clues

The Butterfly Clues

4.0 12
by Kate Ellison, Therese Plummer

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Penelope “Lo” Marin has always loved to collect beautiful things.

But in the year since her brother’s death, Lo’s hoarding has blossomed into a full-blown, potentially dangerous obsession. When she discovers a beautiful antique butterfly figurine and recognizes it as having been stolen from the home of a recently murdered girl known only as


Penelope “Lo” Marin has always loved to collect beautiful things.

But in the year since her brother’s death, Lo’s hoarding has blossomed into a full-blown, potentially dangerous obsession. When she discovers a beautiful antique butterfly figurine and recognizes it as having been stolen from the home of a recently murdered girl known only as Sapphire, Lo becomes fixated.

As she attempts to piece together the mysterious “butterfly clues,” with the unlikely help of a street artist named Flynt, Lo quickly finds herself caught up in a seedy, violent underworld — a world much closer to home than she ever imagined.

Kate Ellison’s debut novel is a tour de force thriller about a girl whose obsessive-compulsive collecting leads her down a dangerous path of secrets, mystery, and murder—where every clue she uncovers could be her last.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Penelope, aka “Lo,” has several obsessive urges—she is drawn to multiples of the number three, repeats the word “banana” for security, and steals various items that she hoards and carefully organizes in her attic bedroom. These compulsions have intensified since her beloved older brother, Oren, died, as has her habit of roaming from her suburban home into different neighborhoods of Cleveland. On one such journey to a seedy section of town dubbed Neverland, Lo is almost hit by a stray bullet. When she learns that a girl was murdered nearby and discovers some of the dead girl’s jewelry at a flea market, Lo becomes determined to find the killer. The mystery pulls Lo into an underworld of strip clubs, drugs, and crime, and also introduces her to Flynt, a street artist who she connects with. In a strong, twisty thriller of a debut, Ellison builds tension effectively, creating credible (if slightly romanticized) portraits of both the decaying, violent streets of Neverland and the compulsions that make Lo such a complex and memorable heroine. Ages 14–up. Agent: Foundry Literary + Media. (Feb.)
From the Publisher
* “Fascinating. Ellison has the art of page-turning down flat, and readers will be swept up by both the terror—and the romance.”
—Booklist Starred Review 
*“This book casts a spell over its readers.”—SLJ Starred Review
“An engaging mystery starring a teen girl with obsessive-compulsive disorder. A pleasing mix of realism, tension, intrigue and romance.”
—Kirkus Reviews

“ . . . a strong, twisty thriller of a debut . . . [with] a complex and memorable heroine.”—Publishers Weekly
“Lo’s relationship with the mysterious street boy who calls himself Flynt, layered on top of her almost supernatural loneliness and helpless compulsions, gives the novel an otherworldly quality.”—VOYA
“A debut worth picking up. Stark and realistic.”—RTBooks
Poignant and haunting.  A gorgeously written debut.”—Lynn Weingarten, author of Wherever Nina Lies and The Secret Sisterhood of Heartbreakers
“A clever mystery, an unlikely romance, an edge-of-your-seat thriller and one of the most wonderful books I’ve read. Here’s the only clue you need—read this book and be amazed.”
—Charles Benoit, author of You and Fall from Grace
“With startling insights, lyrical prose, and relentless tension, Butterfly Clues is a courageous, extraordinary first novel.”—Heidi Ayarbe, IRA-winning author of Freeze Frame
“A stunning and intricately woven debut novel.”—The Princess of Storyland
A heartfelt mystery with a great, intrepid lead character.” —Jessie, bibliophile... anonymous

“I could not put it down simply because of the sheer beauty of [Kate Ellison's] writing.
—Tia, The Undead Unicorn
“The plot is tightly wound and the story is very compelling. If you are looking for a good mystery, I highly recommend this one.”—Booktwirps
“Extremely refreshing and interesting and honestly, really really really good.”
—Valen, The Readers Heartstring
“How on earth do I explain to you how much I loved The Butterfly Clues? It seems like anything I say just won't be enough. This book is amazing.”—Hopelessly Devoted Bibliophile

VOYA - Paula Willey
Lo has been warned not to go to the bad part of town, Neverland, which is of course why she finds herself there one cold Cleveland evening, walking the ominous streets, drawn to certain windows, certain objects, until she witnesses the murder of a girl nobody seems to care about. Lo is not in such great shape herself. The death of her older brother, Oren, has caused her family to shut down, and at the same time has activated her OCD symptoms—compulsive acquisition and repetitive tics—to such an extent that she finds it difficult to have an ordinary conversation or walk down a hallway. There is no magic here, although Lo's relationship with the mysterious street boy who calls himself Flynt, layered on top of her almost supernatural loneliness and helpless compulsions, gives the novel an otherworldly quality. Romance and mystery blend nicely as she attempts to uncover the secrets of the murdered girl, Flynt, and her own brother. Multisensory descriptions plunge the reader into Lo's intensely observed life. Especially evocative are the passages depicting Lo's reactions to Flynt's friends, semi-homeless teen artists who make their lives in Neverland's abandoned buildings and alleys. At first drawn to their freedom, she soon senses menace and desperation. A couple of clunky coincidences as events come to a head at the end may be forgiven due to the slightly dreamlike nature of the narrative. Reviewer: Paula Willey
School Library Journal - Audio
Gr 9 Up—Penelope (Lo), the protagonist in Kate Ellison's murder mystery (Egmont USA, 2012), suffers from obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and also has an urge to steal. She's obsessed with numbers and can's even permit a tap on her shoulder without tapping herself to bring the number of taps to her current odd-number obsession. Lo survives in a grieving, dysfunctional family as the only remaining child after her older brother's untimely death from drugs. She doesn't have friends at school and spends much of her time taking city buses to parts of Cincinnati that are not safe. After Lo hears the gun shot that kills a young stripper, Sapphire, she hooks up with Flynt, a run-away artist who has been sketching strippers in clubs. Lo becomes obsessed with Sapphire's murder and as she investigates it, her own life and well-being are threatened. Therese Plummer dramatically narrates this first person story. Some adult situations make this title most suitable for older, mature teens.—Ann Weber, Bellarmine College Prep., San Jose, CA
School Library Journal
Gr 9 Up—From the very first page of this novel, readers know that Lo is a girl with issues. While exploring a crime-ridden neighborhood on the outskirts of Cleveland, she steals an angel statue on impulse and hears a gunshot as she runs away. The next morning, she's back in her comfortable suburban home when she hears that a young woman was murdered right where she'd been the day before. An interest in finding out about the victim becomes an obsession with discovering the truth behind her murder. In the midst of this thrilling mystery, readers also find out more about Lo's compulsive behaviors, which include lying, stealing, hoarding, and behavioral tics like tapping and counting. The details surrounding the death of her older brother are also slowly revealed, and an awkward romance begins to bud between Lo and an older runaway. The strands of these story lines are artfully woven to a satisfying conclusion. This book casts a spell over its readers with its fast-moving narrative and seamless plotting. Teens will appreciate the honest and realistic portrayal of a character with complex issues, which nevertheless are not the main focus of the book. The excitement of the unfolding mystery and the unique characters make this a great addition.—Sunnie Sette, New Haven Public Library, CT
Kirkus Reviews
An engaging mystery starring a teen girl with obsessive-compulsive disorder. Wandering in an unfamiliar Cleveland neighborhood, Lo, who's recently lost her brother, happens dangerously close to a shooting. When the next day's paper reports the murder of a 19-year-old named Sapphire in the house Lo visited, Lo finds herself compelled to find out more. Her journey takes her to Neverland, a seedy neighborhood where runaway teens and other misfits make their homes. There, she meets a boy, Flynt, who calls her pretty but may be lying about his connection to the dead woman, and ventures inside Sapphire's house and the strip club where she worked. As Lo becomes more deeply entangled in the mystery and begins to attract the attention of the murderer, her repetitive behaviors are ever-present: She taps her thigh in numbered patterns, whispers the word "banana," steals objects and arranges them, then rearranges them in her room. Though Lo's behaviors sometimes slow her down and embarrass her when others notice, this is no problem novel: The behaviors are simply a part of her experience, to which some characters react with hostility and others with tenderness and understanding. Lo encounters hints and artifacts relevant to the case a bit too often to be believed, but the mystery is well plotted, with danger escalating and information revealed at a consistent pace. A pleasing mix of realism, tension, intrigue and romance. (Mystery. 14 & up)

Product Details

Brilliance Audio
Publication date:
Edition description:
Product dimensions:
5.00(w) x 5.60(h) x 0.80(d)
Age Range:
14 - 17 Years

Meet the Author

Kate Ellison trained as an actor in Chicago and has walked across the entire country of Spain. She is a painter and jewelry-maker. She lives in Brooklyn, New York. The Butterfly Clues was her first novel. You can visit her online at

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Butterfly Clues 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 12 reviews.
Nikkayme More than 1 year ago
2.5 stars The Butterfly Clues begins with a killer opening. . .literally. Gunshots and death kick of Penelope ‘Lo’ Marin’s tale of mystery and thrilling whodunit. Lo’s brush with death and her subsequent involvement in the murder of the stripper Sapphire drive the entire story. Lo’s need, no urge, to figure out what happened to the girl she didn’t know is unbreakable. As are Lo’s little eccentricities and her OCD habits. As strong as the story starts off, it does lag quite a bit in the middle. Lo’s habits and urges are interesting enough at first, but I could only take so much tap tap tap, banana-ing. And she does it a lot. And that’s exactly how OCD works – Lo’s debilitating urges are spot on, but when they’re written in a book, they can be too much. I felt like I could never get down to who Lo was and connect with her because all we see are her urges and desire to be someone else. Lo’s OCD took the focus away from the murder and away from the dingy, scary Neverland of Cleveland and the beauty of the sweet boy Flynt. Parts of the story are also a bit predictable; which didn’t really bother me. For all the parts that were predictable, there were ten other ones that caught me off guard. And even though The Butterfly Clues lags some in the middle, the last third of the book takes off like a rocket. Once Lo starts putting the puzzle pieces together, this complex mystery starts to unravel. The Butterfly Clues is a mystery novel at its heart. It has a dash of love drama, a handful of family issues, and a whole lot of investigating. It had so much potential to be incredible, but was only just okay for me. I can see many others (and know a good handful of people) loving it though and it is certainly worth checking out.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book may have bad words but it is spectacular
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I read this in my high school library. I didn't know what it was about but the name interested me. Good thing to because I absolutly fell in love with this book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
BookPortrait More than 1 year ago
I'll admit it - I first wanted to read this book because of the cover alone. In a sea of books with covers full of pretty girls in elegant dresses, this book stood out. (In fact, I did a whole feature on this book because of it's cover - you can see that here.) However, once I started reading, it became clear that this book stood out for many more reasons, including great writing and an engrossing story. If Penelope "Lo" Marin had to be described in one word, it would be this: obsessive. She collects beautiful trinkets, stealing them when she has to, and arranging them all just so in her room. She suffers from obsessive compulsive disorder and feels an urge to tap and whisper to herself (in multiples of three, of course) to make everything alright. And finally, when she learns that a young girl named Sapphire has been murdered when it was almost her instead, Lo won't rest until she finds out who the murderer is. However, finding the murderer takes Lo to a new world, an area of the city known as Neverland. There Lo meets Flynt, a street artist who has the possibility of becoming so much more than just a tour guide. Even with Flynt's help, tracking a murderer isn't easy, despite her clues. But these clues could reveal more to her than she ever imagined... I know what you're thinking - another murder mystery that can be easily solved. Think again. The Butterfly Clues might be a mystery, but it is more than that: It is truly a story of the characters. Almost everyone that we meet has their own story to tell, and I love that we get to learn them all through Lo's memory and investigation even if we don't meet them directly. Lo herself is such a memorable character. Not only is she forced to deal with constant relocation and the death of a sibling, but also she suffers from OCD; I'm sure I will remember her constant "tap, tap, tap, banana" for a long time. Because Lo is on her own and an outcast, she views the world differently, and this was refreshing to read. I also loved getting to know Sapphire. Her journal entries added so much to the story, making my heart break for her and for her life cut short. Finally there is Flynt...but I think I will leave you to find out for yourself about him. Even though Lo's OCD habits took some adjusting to and the mystery could be predicted, there were definitely still surprises. Beyond that, though, the story was very well-written with both wonderful descriptions and insights. The dark, seedy world of this book came to life and made me fear for Lo's safety, and yet the characters and their stories were still moving. The mystery might be solved, but the characters' lives weren't, and I would have loved to know what the future had in store for them. The Butterfly Clues was a fantastic debut novel from Kate Ellison, providing just what you would want in a murder mystery and more. I'll look forward to reading more from this author!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Touching, and thrilling murder mystery/unexpected romance.
MissPrint More than 1 year ago
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, Wherever Nina Lies by Lynn Weingarten
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book truly gives one butterflies while reading the suspense, thrill, and attachment to characters and plot is extrodinary. Round of applause !
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
WishStealer More than 1 year ago
This book started out amazingly, with the "magical" world of Neverland, meeting Flynt, and the necklaces from Sapphire's death. The book kept progressing throughout, though a little bit is predictable, but the climax was kind of blurry and happened too quickly. There weren't enough details, and the ending was a little weird, but otherwise it's fine.
Bumblestripe More than 1 year ago
I had a hard time reading this book. I still do. It's is sitting on my desk waiting to be finshed. If it were a alive i would tell it to not hold it's breath. This book just got so confusing and hard to read at times and others just plain annoying. I literally skipped to the end just to see what happened and get it over with. I agree with Nikkayme.. it did have potential in the beginning, but then it just goes downhill from there.
epicrat More than 1 year ago
The Butterfly Clues may start off somewhat slow and confusing, but eventually the story will take you to unexpected heights with the same frantic energy as its insect namesake. Kate Ellison builds this careful story about a girl with heart-breaking fragility and gives it a quiet, mesmerizing strength and hope that justice will prevail. THE GOOD BITS {A riveting main character.} Lo may not seem all that together at first, but I got used to her OCD quirks and found them rather adorable as say those of MONK. What I find remarkable is that she embraces the OCD with open arms and radiates this sense of courage where nothing seems impossible. While she may lead her life by certain numbers, Lo somehow manages to look danger in the eye and ask for the truth behind the murder. She was full of surprises, and I enjoyed every second of discovering what she chose to do next! {A solid whodunit with suspects in spades.} I thought The Butterfly Clues offered a whole lot of plausible outcomes where no one could be trusted 100%. Add the anxious world of Lo to the mix, then hold onto the pages as the story flits from one suspicion to the next as Lo gets closer to the truth. What I love even more is how this murder may have started as a passing obsession for Lo, but turns into something much more personal than she anticipated. THE BAD BITS {Was high school necessary?} Of course, I expect Lo to be going through the motions of high school - but throwing in some mean girls and a boy making eyes at Lo seemed extraneous. I suppose it shows that Lo had a normal HS experience and her peers were not peachy-keen, but in the grand scheme of things I don't think they moved the plot anywhere. {Everyone seems to have hair issues.} You know, normally I don't notice these things as much or feel the desire to mention them - but this one stuck out almost like Alfalfa's cowlick. I don't know if this was intentional, but everyone seemed to have some sort of dirty, non-glamorous hair. From limp to grungy to stringy to dreadlocks (okay, maybe those doesn't count.), it was just hard to miss the repeat descriptions in the first few chapters. Then again, I am reading an ARC so it may be addressed in the finalized version. THE OVERALL The Butterfly Clues will wrap readers within in pages like a cocoon as Lo unravels the mystery behind Sapphire's death. Kate Ellison has written a remarkable debut with a main character who captures both compassion and admiration as she shines through adversity with her can-do attitude.