By Hannah B.
If there is one thing that stuck with me after reading The Fall of Butterflies, it is the power of expectation, of being limited by it and breaking free from it. The blurb on the back of this brightly colored book closes with: “Andres Portes’s incandescent, heartfelt novel explores the meaning of friendship, new beginnings, and the precarious joy and devastating pain of finding home in a place—a person—with wings.” And right then I knew this wasn’t going to be the kind of Young Adult reading experience I expected it to be.
We start off with Willa, who doesn’t introduce herself until Chapter Five, but still talks to you like the oldest of friends—conversational, comfortable, maybe a little too comfortable. Right off the bat she says, “Trust me.” And you know that by then, only four sentences in, you do.
Willa is smart and sarcastic, the heroine of this story. Her narrative is filled with the downplayed enthusiasm of a teen who wants to be heard but is trying to be cool about it. This long conversation you have with her is a symphony of staccato sentences and run-ons that make sense, sprinkled with pop culture references like Game of Thrones and Justin Bieber. But Willa is also angry, exhausted; this heroine needs saving, even if she doesn’t admit it. Her sarcasm and ease lure you into her life, her thoughts, the narrative she so willingly shares; but what you don’t notice is that somewhere down the road, the qualities that lead you straight into her story are the very things that guard her heart. Like most of us, she’s just trying to protect herself, to get by with what she has.
What she has is a broken family: a mother who expects too much from her but doesn’t have enough love to stay, and a father who still pines for his wife but pours what little he has to his child. She also has a one-way ticket to the east coast, where her mother expects her to grow into a fine young lady fit for Princeton. She leaves her small home in What Cheer, Iowa, for the gray-stoned and gargoyled Pembroke School, where only the richest and the most influential have the chance to breathe the campus air. Willa has a mission in this fancy school, which doesn’t involve diplomas or Princeton—just a clock tower and an end to her burden.
But her mission is derailed thanks to one Remy Taft—yes, from the line of late US President William Howard Taft. Willa first sees Remy outside the admissions building, in rainbow-stripe legwarmers, with ribbons in her braids and a cigarette in her mouth. Of course, Remy is the coolest girl in school. Of course, Willa is a nobody. And of course, they end up being best friends.
Being friends with Remy—without even trying—is like a magnet for the eyes of those in Pembroke and beyond. Suddenly, everyone knows who Willa is. Suddenly, they all want to be her friend, too. Willa is flashed into existence, as her mission fades into the background. Bright and shining Remy, who has everything and gets away with everything, pulls Willa into the spotlight, where she wears Valentino dresses and meets boys who bring her to a private island on their first date. With Remy, the wall of expectation that surrounds Willa is slowly broken down. She doesn’t have to be Little Miss Princeton or the Nobody from Iowa; she doesn’t have to be her mother’s daughter. Being Willa, just Willa, is enough. And even though Remy has a habit of disappearing for days with no warning, she always comes back, straight to Willa.
Yet as the story progresses, Remy starts shedding the perfect layers that first drew Willa in, and we see the darkness hiding underneath. She becomes less of a manic pixie dream girl and more manic pixie with a capital E, as in the little heart-stamped pills that bring you to a state of chemically induced “love.” Willa is thrown into this blinding Gossip Girl-esque world; but, not wanting to let go of Remy—or rather, not wanting to be left behind—Willa lets herself be engulfed.
There are two sides to their friendship: the saving and the needing to be saved. Willa finds an open door; Remy finds an anchor. They both find something to live for. But there is a kind of darkness that even the brightest of friendships can’t break through, and this mutual need for saving can be both their redemption and their downfall.
Andrea Portes writes an unadulterated account of a young girl’s journey outside the only world she has ever known. It is a story of breaking walls and expectations, of diving into a world of possibility—and the consequences that come with it. Willa leaves her broken home and finds a new one, one she never expected to be a part of. And that’s okay. Sometimes we have to leave the familiar, the comfortable, to make way for the unknown, perhaps something better. And if along the way, we find home in the unexpected, or in what we left behind, or just in ourselves, that’s okay too.
The Fall of Butterflies is available at Fully Booked Online.
Hannah writes stuff and goes places.
[Thoughts and views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Fully Booked. Then again, we love our authors anyway.]