Through an endlessly traumatizing series of events, teenager Samara Long clings to her few true friendships, her sense of humor, and her writing, and eventually finds her way to some semblance of peace.
At times teenager Samara Long, the lead character of BUTTERFLIES IN THE SYSTEM, is as frustrating for the reader as for her parents–overly dramatic, self-pitying, and utterly perplexing. But just when one is feeling fed up with her, Jane Powell reveals something new about her protagonist that sheds light on Sam’s struggles–a long-ago abuse, a deeply buried trauma, even a simple teenaged mistake that was horribly exacerbated by the adults in her life. BUTTERFLIES IN THE SYSTEM sports plenty of antagonists, but none as brutal and unforgiving as the youth “protection” system Sam endures; mention is frequently made of the horrific Duplessis Orphans case of the 1940s and 50s, where twenty thousand orphans were deliberately miscertified as mentally ill and confined to psychiatric institutions in order to misappropriate additional subsidies from the federal government, and Sam’s turn at the Manny Cottage Youth Detention Centre doesn’t seem too far removed. It’s a system that crushes all but the most stubborn and mulish spirit, and Sam has plenty of stubborn and mulish to spare. She may not be the most likable protagonist, but she is ultimately– and undeniably– lovable.
Sam is surrounded by a number of equally quirky and confusing characters who occasionally have their own chapter to tell us what’s in their heads and hearts. There’s Gabe, Sam’s sweet and sexually confused best friend, who tries mightily to act tough, but can’t quite escape his lost orphan status; the fragile and funny Tig, whose abuse by a drunken father is genuinely terrifying and provides a great deal of the heart of this story; Dave, the kindhearted childcare worker who is a product of the system himself and works hard to keep Sam sane; Sam’s social worker, Abi Cohen, who lurks quietly in the background until it is revealed that she was one of the Duplessis orphans; the casually cruel Tema, who turns her macabre sense of humor into some fine horror writing; and a number of others. They are part of the rich tapestry of Sam’s world and Powell treats them with meticulous care. The author has constructed a tale that is not always easy to read but is full of a passion for people and social justice and is frequently rescued from the verge of preachiness by a tender heart and biting wit. The reader will emerge from this experience feeling as if they have lived many, many lives and somehow survived them all.
BUTTERFLIES IN THE SYSTEM, a fictional YA story loosely based on author Jane Powell’s time spent in Montreal’s youth protection system, is harrowing, heartbreaking, and occasionally overwrought, but ultimately triumphant and deeply satisfying.
~Shari Simpson for IndieReader