The Butterfly Clues by Kate Ellison

thisismenow's review

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I quite enjoyed The Butterfly Clues. It was an good, solid mystery, but, aside from a solid plot, the characters were really what drew me into the book.

Lo has some very serious issues with stealing, OCD and hoarding that seem to be at an all new high after her brother Oren's death the year before. Her mother is non-functioning and, while I think he's trying to hold it together, her father is often absent.

While wondering the streets during the late night hours while in Neverland, Lo is nearly shot by a stray bullet. She finds out later that on that same night a girl, Sapphire, was murdered. Then, when she discovers pieces of the girl's jewelry at the flee market, Lo feels drawn to find out who killed Sapphire.

Along the way, she meets a host of colorful characters who live in the run down area of Neverland. Among them is Flint. She feels drawn to him much in the same way she feels drawn to Sapphire, but as she meets danger at every corner, it becomes increasingly difficult to know who to trust.

The story had quite a few twists and turns along the way. I did also enjoy that, instead of the story focusing solely on the mystery of Sapphire's murder, there were several things happening with the plot, involving school and her home life. It helped to keep the story grounded in reality.

Also, I felt quite sympathetic to Lo's need to complete her rituals. It added an interesting layer to her character that I hadn't seen before in other books. I often felt frustrated right along with her when she had to stop and do something (sometimes several times if she messed up or lost count).

SpoilerMy only issue with this, though, is that I'd hoped that at some point her parents would do something to try to get her help. It was clearly something she had been doing for a very long time, and while I could understand her dad's frustrations with it, it seemed like it would be been more productive to actually seek some sort of help instead. That being said, I felt quite endeared to Flint because of his easy acceptance of Lo's rituals.

All in all, I thought it was a very solid novel with great characters and plot.

devylish's review

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mysterious medium-paced


raeanne's review

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I won a free giveaway paperback copy from The Reading Teen

3.5 stars: For Lo, for being different, and the mystery that was alright at first.

If you’re looking for a mystery, I wouldn’t recommend it.

If you love YA with different characters dealing with issues, I can definitely recommend The Butterfly Clues. But it’s not for everyone. Others found Lo’s OCD tics and perspective too annoying.

I loved it. Lo’s so well done. The writing is wonderful. I felt her anxiety when numbers went wrong, when people noticed, and her obsessive need to complete her rituals. (It might help that I have anxiety and depression?)


Her habits do come up often but it’s necessary since her OCD is severe. Culling it would make it more mainstream but loose it’s charm, it’s reality.

Her OCD isn’t useful like Monk’s, it’s not a gift and a curse that helps with the case. There’s nothing magical or a silver lining. Lo’s whole life is adversely affected by it. It and her problems coping with Owen’s death, lead her to obsess over Sapphire and that’s all.

Her perspective is skewed as it should be. I enjoy these type of narrators because they seem more real. It’s hard to call her an unreliable narrator though because it sounds bad, it’s not intentional, and it’d be wrong if it wasn’t.

For people like Lo struggling with personal issues like self-esteem and mental health, it doesn’t sit right calling her an unreliable narrator. It’s her world as she knows it.

Hell, most people aren’t reliable narrators simply because we’re human and how the brain functions. Just like dialogue, storytelling narrators are cleaned up to make the book work.


The realizations toward the end really show case it and how her journey has helped her. It pays off and I find it beautiful.

But it’s not about “fixing” her OCD. I HATE cop out endings like that. Instead, she matures as a person and feels more confident in herself. There’s still more to work on and cope with but there’s a more positive outlook.


Q: Why didn’t they get Owen’s mole removed if it bothered him so much? *shrug*
It’s clear Owen held the family together and her parents fell apart afterwards. It’s typical and gives Lo the freedom to act on her own like every other YA. Their background noise to Lo’s story at this point.

Her memories revolve around Owen and their family but there’s not much. Her dad is an ass and her mother was accepting and helpful. I kind of want a better picture, but not really.

I do wonder why Lo said it was his death caused all the problems when it seems like they should’ve been struggling already. It makes sense to be the last straw but I’d expect more turmoil considering his downward spiral.


This doesn’t play as big a role as most YAs. Lo’s afraid of being noticed and called out as a freak so she flies under the radar and dashes out.

While there is some drama involved, I didn’t care for it. It does show how Lo sees herself and how it’s different than what others see but I think it could’ve been much shorter and tighter.

Especially the part about the boy. It’s pointless and who the fuck just goes wandering inside rooms in other people’s houses?! It adds a subtext of “normal stick with normals” which was uncomfortable. Same with the girl drama really.


It’s not even a good red herring or engaging, except for seeing Lo navigate. I cannot stress how important it is to like and enjoy Lo’s narration.

Flynt & Their Relationship:


The second best thing after Lo, was Flynt and their relationship. It’s weird going for the insta-love duo rather than the mystery, but it’s the truth. Not only that, he’s a manic pixie boy who helps Lo feel free. What is happening to me?!?!

But I love how accepting he is. I’ve been a homeless teen and while these kids were more artistic than my experience, it’s not wrong. There’s always chill spots, systems in check, ways to get stuff, money, and survive.

The only problem that I couldn’t believe is the smell. Showering and getting laundry is a huge problem and there didn’t seem to be any way for Flynt and the others to get it done. Plus, Flynt smelling like grass? Nope. Of all the smells, there’s no way he smelt like grass when there’s no fucking grass around.



Besides that, everything in Neverland is pretty grounded including the strippers. They help each other out. While a few have issues, it’s not the “ghetto catty” bullshit from pop media.

Sure, Sapphire’s the heart of gold one but it’s not unusual. There’s usually at least one of those in each group. Neither is not doing “extras”. That’s far less common than people think. She may come off as shiny but it’s not like we get to know her fully, just broad strokes.

I can’t say much beyond that since I don’t know Cleveland. But undergrounds are the same dish with different regional spices.

The Murder Mystery
…is less than average. It’s a vehicle for Lo’s progress as a person, which is the central draw and focus. If you look at the mystery without her perspective, it falls apart.

It fairs better if you like Cozy mysteries and look at it that way: amateur sleuth, conveniences that make it possible, and family drama. Loving Lo really helped, TBH and I enjoy cozy mysteries occasionally. If you don’t, it’s another consideration before reading.


It does well with getting the cops right. For these neighborhoods and people, cops are not friends. They’re assumptive assholes who write people off.

Except for getting the warrant at the end. How did that work? What evidence? Don’t buy it, which leads to the conclusion which is also disappointing. There wasn’t any reason to wait. It’d be radically different if they didn’t fuck around. At least give them cause to do so!
I can accept the coincidences but those two things ended the murder mystery with a sigh.


The Ending:

After that, we get the personal wrap up. That worked for me except for her father’s reaction, especially to Flynt. Maybe he had an epiphany but considering his actions before, I have a hard time accepting it. I might also have a problem with asshole fathers.

School drama gets solved. Family makes some progress and there’s reason to hope. Lo and Flynt’s ending is sweet. But I wish I knew more about Lo and her plans for the future. The Butterfly Clues isn’t about that, which is refreshing in own way, but I’d feel better with it. I became really attached to Lo. The ending made me realize she’s almost 18, so now what?!?


anxietee9's review

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mangoseaquest's review

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Loved the quarkiness of the character and how she wasn't the stereotypical lead that someone would expect. The middle hits a slow point and the very last chapter hits that wall of slow wrapping as well; however, the book was very nicely put together and I enjoyed the twists and catches I didn't see coming.

thecannibalgirl's review

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Kate Ellison has portrayed 'Lo' perfectly. You step into the mind of someone with a serious illness. You feel the confusion, the drive to do things that you don't want to do. I believe Kate spent so much time on the overwhelming character of Lo that the other characters were lacking. You have the boyfriend- a street-wise artist stealing art supplies from dumpsters and living in abandoned buildings. He wasn't a very compelling character, just another part of the scenery. You have the dead stripper -Sapphire- who was the object of an obsession for both Lo and her murderer. That isn't to say I didn't enjoy the book, but your mind goes into sensory overload coping with Lo's mind. There's no room for any other emotions.

The book was well written otherwise, and I have to give the author major props for the description and build of Lo. She hit the nail on the head. I'm not sure I've read a book that has conveyed the sickness that is OCD in such a compelling manner.

screamking's review

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When a murder takes place on the rough side of town, Lo finds herself drawn to the investigation, so drawn to it she decides to take things into her own hands. She digs into the past of the deceased and begins unraveling the life of the woman. But when answers begin rising to the surface, Lo gets a little more than she bargained for.
I honestly enjoyed this book, which is why I read it within a matter of two days. The main character is such a unique and fun character that we as readers don't always get to see. Characters like Lo are usually put in the background as a minor character. Characters like her are the best kind. There are twists in here, and if you read between the lines, you will know one sooner than the revelation chapter itself. I recommend to readers who love a good murder mystery and romance.

mmadill227's review

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dark emotional mysterious medium-paced
  • Plot- or character-driven? A mix
  • Strong character development? Yes
  • Loveable characters? No
  • Diverse cast of characters? Yes
  • Flaws of characters a main focus? Yes


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arrowsartsandbooks's review

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This book was very predictable, you could see who Bird was from a mile away. You could also figure out who the killer was pretty early on. After all this time building trust between Penelope and Flynt, it feels like the reader still barely knows who Flint is. Here are some bad quotes from the book:

1. "I stare at his bear ears, then his blue-green-gold eyes." Alexa play Repeat Stuff by Bo Burnham.

2. "...A Post-It note that says 'Laundry!!' in a girls handwriting." Since when is handwriting gendered?

3. "His blue eyes got even bluer." I cannot visualize this. What is this even supposed to mean?

There's also something so childish about writing "END" in a huge font at the end of the book.

missprint_'s review

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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