Summary from Goodreads:
Kara never met her birth mother. Abandoned as an infant, she was taken in by an elderly American woman living in China. Now eleven, Kara spends most of her time in their apartment, wondering why she and Mama cannot leave the city of Tianjin and go live with Daddy in Montana. Mama tells Kara to be content with what she has…but what if Kara secretly wants more?
Told in lyrical, moving verse, Kara’s story is one of a girl learning to trust her own voice, discovering that love and family are limitless, and finding the wings she needs to reach new heights.
This is a gorgeous novel in verse about Kara, a girl raised in Tianjin, China, by an elderly woman from the United States. Kara was abandoned by her birth mother as an infant due to her abnormally-formed hand, and she’s supposed to be grateful. But more than anything, Kara wants normal. And, maybe, Kara would like to learn to fly.
I was absolutely engrossed in Red Butterfly from the first line. Sonnichsen’s verse is simple but effective in conveying both emotion and personality. Kara’s confusion and conflict are portrayed maturely, with thoughtful complexity. As her situation changes, from seclusion to orphanage to the US, Kara evolves and grows, learning about herself and about happiness. Sometimes I’ve found that verse novels can oversimplify a story too much, paring down a plot into its barest elements with no sense of atmosphere or feeling, but that wasn’t the case here. Sonnichsen was able to create a world for Kara to inhabit, and to convey adult issues in the way a young girl would see them.
More than Kara herself, I love what the author has done in portraying China’s “one child” policy and how it affects children who aren’t their parents’ ideal. From Kara’s own abandonment to orphanages spilling over with children who have cerebral palsy, unlikely to ever be adopted, Red Butterfly presents a portrait of childhood that isn’t perfect, but also shows how Kara and others like her can find joy in spite of circumstance.
From start to finish, I was enamored with the story presented in this novel, and how the author dealt with it. Red Butterfly went in directions I wasn’t expecting, and tapped into emotions that were deep and bittersweet. This is a story of identity, of adoption, and of family, and all of the themes work together in harmony. Kara’s journey is a wonderful progression from guilt and uncertainty into bravery, acceptance, and new beginnings, and I think that A.L. Sonnichsen has really captured something wonderful here.