The girl is sweet, empathetic and ordinary. The boy: brilliant, charismatic – and ill.
No one knows it yet, but he is incapable of feeling. Their relationship twists and turns to a terrifying climax about making the ultimate sacrifice... From DoubleCluck.com
WARNING! I cannot review this book in the way I want to for MHAM without spoiling it. Read no further if you don't want it spoilt for you.
Reading the above synopsis, who could fail to be intrigued by this book? Two teens drawn together, one of whom can't feel! Surely the makings of an amazing and really interesting story, right? Sadly, I'm afraid not - at least not for me.
When they were seven years old, Sphinx and Cadence's mothers made a plan; they would each have one child, one a boy and one a girl, and they would grow up and get married. The plan is something that Sphinx has held on to, the way her life was supposed to go. But when Cadence falls ill, the plan is broken. Cadence needs Sphinx more than ever, and she's determined to do what she can for him, whatever it takes, even if it hurts her. With Cadence's volatile behaviour, that's more than likely.
This is going to be a really difficult book to review, because I didn't enjoy it. At all. I can't work out if the plot was good and just didn't work because of the author's writing ability, or if the story itself was also not very great. If it wasn't for the fact that I want to read books covering a variety of mental health issues for MHAM, I would have put this book down a fifth of the way in.
Let me talk about the writing before I go into the story in too much detail. I'm no editor, so I could be wrong, but this felt really badly written to me. The style felt amateurish to me; the fact that Sphinx thought Cadence shone brightly was constantly repeated; his light, the fire in his eyes, etc, etc. If there was any point she could talk about his light, Anjelais would have her do so. I got tired of hearing about it. When reading about authors editing on their websites or Twitter, they mention cutting out scenes that don't add to the story, that don't need to be there. There were so many! Like the one with the kid who's mum is helping him wash his hands in the toilet? There was no reason for them! And ideas that were repeated over and over, like Sphinx was only just thinking of it for the first time. And Sphinx's inability to explain things to her mother. Trying to explain why she wanted to extend her trip in England visiting Cadence made her sound like a child rather than a 16-year-old, pretty much simply, "Please, mum, I have to!" But why? As the reader, we know, but if she's trying to convince her mother to let her with no why, no mother is going to let her. Except for hers. And there was far too much emphasis on this childhood plan of their mothers', as if it was actually something important. It was just such a hard, hard slog to get through, and it's only 257 pages long.
I do think it's because of this that I didn't like the plot. I couldn't warm to Sphinx; she was unbearably annoying and immature, and simply not believable for me. She made ridiculous decisions, and her reasons for them were just so wrong, I was thinking, "Can you hear yourself?! Are you serious?!" I didn't like her, I didn't care about her, and I wasn't too bothered about what happened to her. Which isn't great, considering we're supposed to be horrified by Cadence's behaviour.
So, Candence. He has been diagnosed as a sociopath, and his actions are unbelievable. They're shocking and atrocious, but I don't think his story was written well enough. Although Sphinx sympathised with him, I found him really unsympathetic, which I don't think is great when presented with a character who has mental health issues. I don't know enough about sociopaths (or Anti-Social Personality Disorders, which a sociopath has, if my research is correct) to know if Cadence is a fair representation. I'd like to think not, because he's written as a monster.
Dictionary.com defines a sociopath as "a person with a psychopathic personality whose behavior is antisocial, often criminal, and who lacks a sense of moral responsibility or social conscience." Where that is mostly true for Cadence, that's not what's focused on in regards to his mental illness, what's focused on is his inability to feel; pleasure, sadness, any strong, passionate emotion that isn't anger. This side of sociopathy is discussed further on HealthGuidance.org. He gauges how he's supposed to react by watching Sphinx, because he doesn't feel these emotions himself. He's constantly trying to feel something, and can't. So he hurts, bullies, threatens people. Reading what's said on HealthGuidance.org, I feel it's possible for me to be more sympathetic to me as a reader Cadence if the story was written differently. Perhaps I'm wrong, but considering Cadence has a mental illness, the way he is portrayed in this story made me feel really uncomfortable, because I hated him. That doesn't sit right with me. Perhaps it's Sphinx as a flawed narrator, perhaps it's how Anjelais wrote the story, I didn't understand Cadence enough to feel anything other than complete abhorrence for him. And that really isn't right. I suppose it didn't help that there was an attitude of, "Oh, he has a mental illness and he's ill, so we'll tiptoe around him and let him get away with whatever he wants." I disagreed with that completely.
I really want to read more books with sociopaths in them, simply because I think this book may have done them a disservice. I need to read a sympathetic book on sociopaths. I need to fix this reaction. I very much doubt I'll be reading anything by Anjelais again.
But maybe you will have a different reaction to Breaking Butterflies; do read some other reviews before deciding not to read it. Don't base your decision on my review alone.
Thank you to Chicken House for the review copy.
Published: 3rd April 2014
Publisher: Chicken House
M. Anjelais' Twitter