This new book from Victoria Williamson brims over with emotion as it flits between the alternate voices of Elin and Jamie, two very different children who are pulled together into a new blended family.
Elin is an eleven year-old, struggling to come to terms with her parents’ broken marriage and hoping that if she lives up to her dad’s “ perfect princess” label he will return to the family. When her dad left she felt “ like he’d taken my wings and the blue summer sky with him.” She clings to her precious memories of life in their previous fairy tale home and bottles up her anger at her new circumstances, only revealing how she truly feels in the fantasy story that she adds to during her lonely, friendless break times at school.
Meanwhile, Jamie is ignored by his mum’s new boyfriend Chris, but hopes that when the three of them move to California the American doctors will be able to fix his broken brain. He wants an alternative reality to his current one of being “the boy who can’t concentrate for more than half a second before his mind’s fluttering off somewhere else like a butterfly.”
When Jamie’s mum delivers the devastating news that Chris does not want him to accompany them to America, but instead he is to move in with his Dad’s new girlfriend and her daughter in Glasgow, Jamie’s violent and destructive reaction is absolutely heart-wrenching. His reflections on his anger-management issues show his struggles and his self-awareness at the same time as his utter inability to control his behaviour when the chaos in his brain becomes unbearable.
Elin is furious at this messy arrival into her home and even more enraged when Jamie joins her class at school, causing disruption to the one area where she feels in control. She labels him “the enemy” and decides that she will have to get rid of him and his dad Paul if she is to have any hope of getting her own dad back to live “happily ever after with just me and Mum.”
The clever story structure lets you inside the minds of the two young protagonists, and seeing the tale play out through their perceived realities gives the reader an incredible empathy with the contrasting viewpoints. Elin is a difficult character to warm to, her dismissiveness of kind, gentle Paige, her absolute refusal to meet her Dad’s new daughter or girlfriend and her desire to put her fairytale family back together all begin to make sense when seen through the prism of her desolation at losing her father. Meanwhile Jamie is a hugely sympathetic character with a kind heart and a continual struggle with ADHD. In one incredibly moving paragraph he sums up his reality in these words:
“It’s funny how just four letters can mean the difference between being normal and being the kind of monster whose own mother moves to a different country to get away from him.”
The extreme and deceitful measures that Elin takes to remove Jamie from her home appear to be unforgivable, but the reader has to take Jaimie’s big-hearted lead and believe that redemption is possible.
In addition to the sensitively written characters of Jamie and Elin, I think that the character of Jamie’s dad Paul is wonderfully realised especially as kind, sensitive Dads are largely missing from MG fiction. Right from the start it is clear that he goes out of his way to respect Elin’s space and to show her understanding despite her coldness towards him, and his devotion to helping his son is all-encompassing. The quietly diplomatic Paige, a lonely character who blossoms as her friendship with Jamie develops is another key element in this story.
I loved the book’s structure, progressing through the different stages of a butterfly’s development and the way that this device was included in the children’s science project. The emotional journey of Elin and Jamie’s metamorphosis into a new blended family is handled with such sensitivity by Victoria Williamson that it teaches us all a valuable lesson in empathy – both for children living with ADHD and those suffering emotionally following divorce. This is one of those books that I know will stay in my heart long after I finished reading it.
I absolutely recommend this book to everyone of age 10+, and I cannot wait to see what Victoria Williamson writes next.
It is heart-warming to see that 20% of the author royalties are being donated to Children 1st, a Scottish charity helping families and children.
If you love this book, make sure you read The Fox Girl and the White Gazelle by the same author.