The Knife and the Butterfly

( 1 )


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 ...

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The Knife and the Butterfly

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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.

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Editorial Reviews

ALAN Review - Jesse Gray
After a violent confrontation with a rival gang, Azael wakes up in a juvenile detention center, an environment that he knows well. The familiarity of these surroundings, however, belies something much stranger and more profound than Azael could begin to expect from this experience—he isn't allowed to call anyone, hasn't met with a lawyer, and is made to observe a fellow inmate, Lexi, through one-way glass for hours at a time. Azael's caseworker, Gabe, cryptically insists that there isn't much time left for Azael to accomplish what he is supposed to do through these observations. As Azael pieces Lexi's life together, he is struck by how familiar they both are with loss—home, family, friends, safety, and stability. Is this what Gabe wants him to figure out, or is there something else? Perez gives the reader sympathetic yet critical insight into the world of gangs in Houston, Texas, and is careful to show the narratives of loss that drive so many young people to join them. Reviewer: Jesse Gray
VOYA - Laura Woodruff
Fifteen-year-old Azael Arevalo lives on the mean streets of Houston. Son of illegal Salvadoran immigrants, his mother dead and his father deported, Azael and his older brother, Eddie, join the MS-13 gang as their adopted family. Between rumbles with rival gangs, Azael paints murals on whatever large surfaces he can find, such as walls, buildings, or railroad cars—inspired masterpieces that are quickly erased by rival gangs. His only real attachment is to his girlfriend, Betta, whom he consistently disappoints with his stealing, violence, and troubles with police. The novel begins with Azael in lockup following a bloody gang fight he can only partially remember. Weeks pass while Azael is made to observe Lexi, also in lockup, during her group therapy sessions. Azael cannot understand the system—no phone calls, no lawyers, no contacts from anyone outside—but knows his time there is limited and moving toward some conclusion. Meanwhile, Lexi, who is even more hostile and rebellious than Azael, seems to know his name although they are strangers. A second novel by bi-lingual author Perez, The Knife and the Butterfly is a bleak, disgusting, and poignant portrait of gang life among youths of color in Houston. Language (often peppered with Spanish words) and sexual depictions, while offensive, are appropriate for the characters, who are really children trapped in desperate circumstances. Based on a true incident, this work of fiction is gritty, sad, and not for the faint-hearted. Reviewer: Laura Woodruff
Children's Literature - Jody Little
Fifteen-year old gang member, Azael wakes up to find himself in prison, but he remembers only bits and pieces of what happened. He knows there was a brawl and he knows his brother was in danger, but none of his homies appear to be in jail with him. Azael asks to see his file and to make a phone call, but no one seems to be helping him. His files are mysteriously vague and missing crucial information. He is told that he must observe a girl locked up in another cell. Her name is Lexi, a tough, cocky white girl from another street gang. Through observing Lexi's sessions with a therapist and reading her personal journals, Azael begins to slowly uncover what happened on that fateful night, and how he is connected to this girl. Author Perez masterfully weaves back story with present day to give readers a stirringly harsh and honest look at the lives of teens living on society's fringe, where pulling out the knife and engaging in violence is the norm. The characters' voices are hard-hitting and real, but disturbing at the same time. The surprising twists at the novel's end will not only have readers returning to page one to reread, but will have readers thinking about the possibilities of hope and redemption for even the toughest and shrewdest of young adults. Reviewer: Jody Little
Kirkus Reviews
The lives of two teens become inexplicably intertwined in this gritty novel with a paranormal twist. Fifteen-year-old Salvadoran Martín "Azael" Arevalo awakens in a cell remembering bits and pieces of a fight in a Houston park between his gang, Mara Salvatrucha or MS-13, and Crazy Crew. Yet he cannot recall how the fight ended or why he is behind bars again. Azael narrates his life in chapters set alternatively in the present and at various points in his past, giving readers glimpses of a childhood of love and loss. In the present, Azael finds himself assigned to the secret observation of a white 17-year-old girl named Alexis "Lexi" Allen, although he fails to see any connection the two might have had on the outside. While Azael hates Lexi at the beginning, he finds himself beginning to empathize with the struggles she has faced over her life. Pérez creates two nuanced characters in Azael and Lexi, both of whom could have easily become caricatures. The use of profanity and descriptions of violence add realism to the novel, although the backmatter could have benefitted from a Spanish glossary. The author demonstrates why gangs appeal to many teens with family problems without glorifying the violence that often accompanies their activities. An unflinching portrait with an ending that begs for another reading. (author's note) (Fiction. 14 & up)
School Library Journal
Gr 9 Up—Martin "Azael" Aravelo wakes up one day and finds himself locked in a jail cell. The 15-year-old struggles to recount the still-hazy last few days: "I've got no memory of being brought in here… it's like my brain's a jacked-up DVD player that skips back again and again." There was a fight between Azael's MS13 boys and some punks from rival Houston gang Crazy Crew, but Azael can remember only a few details—his brother Eddie's blue shirt, a flash of red clothing, someone's hands covered in blood. So why is he behind bars? And what is the connection between the girl he is being made to observe—some white girl he has never seen before—and him? Short chapters alternate between "Now" and "Then," doling out clues in small bursts and generating a fast pace. Azael is a dynamic and sympathetic main character with an authentic voice. On the other hand, Lexi—the object of Azael's study—is not wholly believable. The author's choice to have Azael (and readers) digest large chunks of plot through her journal hinders the pacing at times, while the trite way in which Lexi often writes fails to match up with her character's streetwise persona. Still, Pérez sets up the mystery well enough in the story's first act to overcome any inconsistency in character, making this hard-hitting novel an assured success in libraries serving high school students.—Sam Bloom, Groesbeck Branch Library, Cincinnati, OH
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780761361565
  • Publisher: Lerner Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 1/28/2012
  • Pages: 210
  • Age range: 14 - 17 Years
  • Lexile: HL790L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 5.20 (w) x 7.60 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

Ashley Hope Pérez grew up in Texas and served in the Teach for America Corps in Houston. She has worked as a translator and is completing a PhD in comparative literature. She spends most of her time reading, writing, and teaching college classes on vampire literature and Latin-American women writers. Kirkus called her first novel, What Can't Wait, "Un magnífico debut." Ashley lives in Indiana with her husband, Arnulfo, and their son, Liam Miguel.

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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 10, 2012

    The book

    I just started reading it and so far it is really good

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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