Author: Amy Gail Hansen
Genre: general fiction
Published: August 6 2013
Source: TLC Book Tours for review
"My past was never more than one thought, one breath, one heartbeat away. And then, on that particular October evening, it literally arrived at my doorstep."
Eight months after dropping out of Tarble, an all-women's college, twenty-two-year-old Ruby Rousseau is still haunted by the memories of her senior year-a year marred by an affair with her English professor and a deep depression that not only caused her to question her own sanity but prompted a failed suicide attempt.
And then a mysterious paisley print suitcase arrives, bearing Ruby's name and address on the tag. When Ruby tries to return the luggage to its rightful owner, Beth Richards, her dorm mate at Tarble, she learns that Beth disappeared two days earlier, and the suitcase is the only tangible evidence as to her whereabouts.
Consumed by the mystery of the missing girl and the contents of the luggage-a tattered copy of Virginia Woolf's A Room of One's Own, the book on which Ruby based her senior thesis, and which she believes instigated her madness-she sets out to uncover the truth, not only about Beth Richards's past but also her own. In doing so, Ruby is forced to reexamine the people from her past: the professor who whisked her away to New Orleans and then shattered her heart and the ghosts of dead women writers who beckoned her to join their illustrious group. And when Ruby's storyline converges with Beth's in a way she never imagined, she returns to the one place she swore she never would: her alma mater.
I liked this quite a bit. I didn't love it, but Amy Gail Hansen pulled me into her story easily and early. The mystery is intriguing, the characters are well-drawn, and the writing itself is sold. Part mystery, part thriller, the author blends together the various aspects of The Butterfly Sister into an interesting and compulsively readable novel. Fast-paced, with several, unexpected twists and turns, readers will find themselves drawn into Ruby Rousseau's complicated life. This is a short-ish novel, but Hansen packs a lot of punch into her three-hundred pages.
Ruby is a compelling protagonist - she's complicated, a mess, a shadow of her former self. She also believes herself to be mad, and with an attempted suicide in her recent past, it's easy to believe in her confusion and pain. Though the majority of the story is focused on the "now" timeline, there are frequent flashbacks interspersed to a year before, when Ruby was at college, and in a seemingly-better mental state. Both the past and the present narratives are connected in unexpected ways, and as Ruby tries to find Beth and figure out what happened to her a year ago, she comes to realize that life at Tarble was not exactly as she remembered. Her romance with an older man is nicely written and fraught with drama, if a bit squick-imducing when it's revealed her love is only three years younger than Ruby's own parents.
The disappearance of Beth is key to the plot, and as Ruby uncovers more about her former friend, the similarities between the two women become more and more apparent. Both were only children, both lost their fathers, and both made ill-fated romantic relationships. But while Ruby may be metaphorically lost, Beth is literally lost. The theme of feminine depression encompasses both women's lives in surprising ways -- Ruby herself is depressed, and while Beth remains unafflicted, another woman's depression has dire implications for her own life. Hansen handles the theme well, and without prejudice. Her even-handed depiction of depression is forthright and real, and never veers into political incorrectness. It helps that Ruby is shown to be a very smart woman, and a thorough researcher. She is much more than her illness, and it doesn't define her.
The final chapters of the book were weaker than the introduction. The mystery flags as the culprit is revealed and leads the characters on an increasingly hard-to-believe series of events. As it went on, The Butterfly Sister lost a bit of the subtlety that it had maintained earlier in the story, but I still couldn't put the book down. It wasn't perfect, but Hansen's first novel is an easy read that will definitely keep readers turning the page. It's unusual, compelling, and a bit weird -- and absolutely memorable.
Thanks to TLC Book Tours for including me in this tour! Find the full schedule here.