This week we're taking a closer look at Powell's Pick of the Month The Butterfly Girl by Rene Denfeld.
Rene Denfeld has amassed a small army of devotees here at Powell's, and with The Butterfly Girl
, she's certain to garner more. This riveting follow-up to The Child Finder
(which you needn’t have read beforehand, but do read it; it’s wonderful) showcases Denfeld’s unique ability to dive headlong into the murky depths and surface with something redemptive and beautiful in tow. — Tove H.
As a therapeutic foster mom, private investigator, and journalist whose nonfiction work has focused on street children in Portland, Oregon, it makes sense that Rene Denfeld’s fiction would likewise center on children in untenable circumstances, and the adults who savage or save them. She does so with deep compassion; Denfeld’s ability to expose the filth and violence of street life without disgust or shaming is a clear lesson to the reader in finding the humanity within people and circumstances most of us shy away from.
Her latest novel, The Butterfly Girl
, is both a companion to The Child Finder
, featuring the same stubborn, traumatized investigator with a fixation on lost children, and an absorbing standalone. In The Butterfly Girl
, Denfeld tells the crossed stories of PI Naomi, now adult and newly married, and Celia, a 12-year-old runaway. Naomi and Celia share abusive childhoods, and both are worried about the little sisters they left when fleeing captivity and home, respectively. While the novel concentrates on Naomi’s and Celia’s experiences, the narrative frequently dips into the perspectives of the people who surround them, broadening the world of the novel to include Naomi’s husband, Jerome, Celia’s street friends, and others, including the story’s chief villain.
Naomi encounters Celia while searching for her own lost sister, an investigation that ties conveniently into a subplot about a serial killer preying on young homeless women. While the story itself isn’t especially original — astute readers and crime thriller fans will swiftly identify the killer and the familiar tropes of addiction, abuse, revenge, and at long last, a safe home that dominate the novel — Denfeld’s gift for putting believable faces to trenchant social issues like child prostitution and youth homelessness is unmatched. She’s also adept at whimsy, which is not a characteristic generally associated with crime and thriller fiction, but which enriches Denfeld’s psychological portraits of her characters. Celia’s love for butterflies is not just poignant metaphor for beauty and freedom, but an intriguing character quirk that endears her to Naomi and the reader.
Quickly paced and poignant, The Butterfly Girl
is a thrilling, revelatory, and satisfying read.
Check out the rest of our Picks of the Month here