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The Knife and the Butterfly
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About the Author

Ashley Hope Perez is the author of the YA novels Out of Darkness (Carolrhoda Lab, 2015), The Knife and the Butterfly (Carolrhoda Lab, 2012), and What Can't Wait (Carolrhoda Lab, 2011). Her debut novel What Can't Wait won a spot on the 2012 YALSA Best Fiction for YA list, and The Knife and the Butterfly was included in the 2015 YALSA Popular Paperbacks list. Ashley grew up in Texas and taught high school in Houston before pursuing a PhD in comparative literature. She is now a visiting assistant professor of comparative studies at The Ohio State University and spends most of her time reading, writing, and teaching on topics from global youth narratives to Latin American and Latina/o fiction. She lives in Ohio with her husband, Arnulfo, and their son, Liam Miguel. Visit her online at http: //www.ashleyperez.com/.

Reviews

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, Perez 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 (c) Copyright 2012. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

This is a well-written, compelling story of the lost lives of young gang members. Azael is part of MS-13 and loves to draw graffiti, while Lexi is a member of the Crazy Crew gang. After a brawl, Azael wakes up in a prison cell which is very different from juvie. He is not allowed to associate with other inmates, and spends his time observing Lexi's private conferences with her lawyer or reading her notebook. He begins to sketch as he recovers his memory of the day he was imprisoned, and figures out that Lexi is about to testify at a trial, but doesn't know if it's his trial or hers. The drama of the story propels the reader to find out what happens to these kids. Strong language and graphic sexual content make this a senior high school choice. --Library Media Connection

-- "Journal"

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, Becca, 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. --VOYA

-- "Journal"

Like Ashley Hope Perez, I have been a teacher in inner-city Houston and a writer of young adult fiction. I am in a perfect position to watch in awe as she completely nails our students' experiences in her harrowing, heart-rending, and ultimately hopeful The Knife and the Butterfly. This is the book I wish I'd had the guts to write! --Jordan Sonnenblick, author of After Ever After and Drums, Girls, and Dangerous Pie

-- "Other Print"

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, Perez 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. --School Library Journal

-- "Journal"

The last thing gangbanger Azael remembers is he and his Salvadorian MS-13 brothers brutally kicking the asses of a rival Houston gang called the Crazy Crew. Then he wakes up in a strange jail where his charges are not explained and the only punishment--if you want to call it that--is observing through a one-way window a girl he doesn't know named Lexi, who is preparing for some kind of trial of her own. Any reader who has been around the block is going to see this novel's final twist coming right from the start. But that's a minor issue, as Perez's concerns are centered around the gritty day-to-day struggles of both hardened, cynical, uncooperative teens to break through their respective emotional walls. Half the book is spent in flashback to Azael's former life, and it's an unvarnished, unsentimental portrait of a vulgar, sex-obsessed, drug-using, paint-tagging gang member whose inkling to go straight revolves around the girlfriend to whom he can't quite commit. An uncompromising look at two characters most readers would otherwise look away from. --Booklist

-- "Journal"

The lives of two teens become inexplicably intertwined in this gritty novel with a paranormal twist. Fifteen-year-old Salvadoran Martin '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. Perez 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. --Kirkus Reviews

-- "Journal"
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, believes something much stranger and more profound than Azael could begin to expect from this experience--he isn't allowed to call anyone, hasn't meant 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. --The ALAN Review
-- "Journal"

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