Christie Burke's Infinite Booklist

The Butterfly Clues October 18, 2012

Filed under: fiction,mystery,YA — Christie @ 12:47 pm
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Ellison, Kate. The Butterfly Clues. 978-1606842638.

This book’s summary intrigued me: a 17-year-old with OCD and a dead brother gets wrapped up in the murder of a young stripper in a bad part of town. Fast-paced mysteries featuring high-school protagonists are pretty thin on the ground, so I thought I’d take a look. (I also thought it’d be important to preview, given the stripper content. The school where I work has a pretty conservative clientele.)  Well.

Kate Ellison brings the reader right into (Pene)Lo(pe) Marin’s experience; I was drawn into the tics and compulsive behaviors right away, and it’s clear that Lo’s home life is not helping her address her mental health issues. While the story is a touch implausible (near-miss murder; incredibly dangerous stalker type and misinterpreted clues all along the way; on-again, off-again, sweet/weird romance; perfectly neat and orderly ending), I do think that mysteries ask us to suspend disbelief more than some other genres do.  With that in mind, I’d recommend this book to readers who like mysteries and thrillers. It isn’t typical shoot-em-up stuff, but it moves fast and slows down regularly to allow the reader (and Lo) to take a breath.

What I think The Butterfly Clues does really well is open a window into the world of a person with OCD. Some of Lo’s behaviors (arranging and rearranging her collections, for example, and a fixation with multiples of three) seem harmless; others (like a particular sequence that Lo needs to complete before entering a room) are obviously in her way. Other reviewers have said that the continuous repetition of that sequence and others was bothersome and interrupted the flow of their reading. I thought that including them continuously, repetitiously, annoyingly throughout the book played up the fact that they interrupt the flow of Lo’s entire life. While it may be unrealistic to think that a 17-year-old girl (other than Nancy Drew) would pursue a murder investigation, this girl has to follow through to the end, by any means possible. We wouldn’t get there if Lo didn’t have OCD.

Overall, The Butterfly Clues was a decent read. Not perfect, and not earth-shattering literature, but definitely the kind of first novel that will make me look for more from Kate Ellison.


The Maze Runner August 3, 2010

The Maze Runner (cover)Dashner, James.  The Maze Runner. Random House (Delacorte Press), 2009.

Thomas is the newest arrival to the Glade, a compound where preteen and teenage boys are fending for themselves and creating a life with no adults.  Up to the time he arrives in the mysterious lift (called The Box), a new Glader just like Thomas has arrived every month, with no recollection of his previous life and no information about himself except his first name.  It happens once a month like clockwork – until 1) another person comes through The Box the very next day who is 2) a girl and 3) is clutching a note that says, “She’s the last one. Ever.”

The Glade, thus far, has proven inescapable.  It’s surrounded by a giant maze that changes every day.  A team of eight Runners goes out each day to try and find an exit, but none has been found and the Runners are beginning to think it’s unsolvable.  Thomas wants to be a Runner even though he’s new to the Glade, and the presence of the girl is making him think he might have some answers if he could just get to his memories.

The Maze Runner is a terrific follow-up recommendation for kids who are reading the Hunger Games series, with some similar themes of beating the system and sticking it to the man.  There’s lots of action here and while the author classifies himself as a fantasy writer, I think sci-fi readers would enjoy it as well.  I will say this: I hated the ending, but it is the first in a series (The Scorch Trials is due out in a couple of months, and we can only hope it has some answers in it).


The White Darkness January 7, 2010

McCaughrean, Geraldine.  The White Darkness. HarperTeen, 2005.

Sym Wates is a slightly out of the ordinary 14-year-old girl.  For one thing, she knows pretty much everything there is to know about Antarctica; for another, she sort of has a dead guy rattling around in her head.  Captain Titus Oates was an Antarctic explorer who died there under horrible circumstances, and Sym is so taken with the idea of him that she brings him into her life as a confidant and soul mate (though the rest of us can see that he’s really an imaginary friend).  Sym’s Uncle Victor feeds her Antarctic obsession, but with his own agenda in mind.  When he takes her on a dream trip to “The Ice,” things quickly degenerate into a struggle for survival.

I’ve read this book twice now – the first time was for class, and the second was for book club at school (i.e. I talked a bunch of students into reading it too).  The plot moves fairly well, but the pace of the writing itself is a little inconsistent – as in blah blah blah blah-TRIP TO EUROPE – blah blah blah – WE’RE GOING TO ANTARCTICA WITHOUT YOUR MOM – blah blah blah blah blah EXPLOSION blah blah blah blah STUNNING TURN OF EVENTS.  Aside from the Memorable Plot Points, there is a lot of sameness about this book – but I think it’s well-crafted, deliberate sameness, designed to evoke the monotony of Antarctica itself and of Sym’s day-to-day life.  It’s written in such a way that it made me physically cold when I read it the first time, and while I don’t like being cold, I do appreciate that kind of description.

So yeah, *I* liked this book.  My book club kids were not as enthusiastic about it, and so I’m a little bit on the fence about recommending it for high-school kids (though the kids who liked it liked it A LOT).  One thing I did notice is that the guys in the group did most of the talking, which is a bit of a change.  Not that these guys don’t talk, but typically more of the girls do.  For the right person, it’s a good read.


Geraldine McCaughrean’s Official Website (Children’s Novels section).  A telling quotation from the blurb on this book: “Who but the mad trust for happiness to someone or something that isn’t there?”  We had lots of conversation about who in this book was and was not completely crazy. FWIW, I think only Victor – because a vivid internal monologue is not necessarily a problem for me. 🙂

A more useful review than  I just wrote, on

Titus Oates on Wikipedia.