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Sonya Hartnett, Rebecca Macauley

Growing up during the 1980s in the safe complacency of the Australian suburbs, Plum Coyle should be happy. But on the cusp of her fourteenth birthday - and on the fringe of her peer group - she lives in terror of the disapproval of her cruel and fickle girlfriends and, most of all, she hates her awkward, changing body with a passion. So when Plum’s glamorous next-door neighbour Maureen, a young wife and mother, befriends Plum, Plum responds with worshipful fervour. Plum feels herself reinvented. With Maureen, she becomes the girl she’s always wanted to be. But Maureen has an ulterior motive for taking Plum under her wing…


Sonya Hartnett’s latest novel will appeal to readers well beyond the age of its nearly 14-year-old protagonist.

Plum Coyle exists in a semi-permanent state of agony. Her body is awkward, stuck between childhood and womanhood, mirroring the frenzied state within: “a witch-brew of frustration and self-hate”. Her always tentative place in the schoolyard hierarchy is slipping, despite the canny advice of her glamorous housewife neighbour Maureen, who Plum consults as her oracle. But Maureen’s seemingly beneficent friendship is oddly sinister. She is as desperate in her own way as Plum – clinging to her teenage days just as Plum is cringing from them.

This disquieting book is masterful. Hartnett blends perfect sentences, poetic imagery and crisply relevant dialogue – the snaky, silky barbs of Plum’s friends read as if taken from Tina Fey’s script for Mean Girls. (‘Sleepers look best on skinny girls.’) Butterfly perfectly inhabits early female adolescence, complete with tension-releasing hormonal tantrums and crippling uncertainty. It also beautifully captures the dynamic of an ordinary suburban family; the understated yet deeply felt love between Plum, her older brothers and her parents is cleverly juxtaposed with the Lord of the Flies cruelty of the schoolyard.

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