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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

‘The Butterfly Girl’ by Rene Denfeld: What the critics are saying

From staff reports

“The Butterfly Girl: A Novel,” by Portland author Rene Denfeld, was released on Oct. 1. Denfeld is bringing her book tour to Spokane on Oct. 23 for an evening with the Northwest Passages Book Club. Here’s a roundup of what the critics are saying about her third novel.

From the Washington Post’s “The Ten Books to Read in October”:

We first met Naomi, a talented investigator, in 2017’s “The Child Finder.” She returns here in a story that involves the homeless Celia, who lives on the streets of Portland, which also is where Naomi is searching for a sister she barely remembers. Chilling, suspenseful and yet full of hope, Denfeld’s second mystery is as satisfying as her first.

From The Guardian:

In Rene Denfeld’s “The Butterfly Girl,” Naomi Cottle, a private investigator who finds missing children, is looking for her own sister. The trouble is she doesn’t know her name: Naomi herself escaped from captivity at age 9 and was found running through an Oregon strawberry field at night, her memory wiped clean by terror. As she edges closer to the truth, she is drawn into an investigation into the disappearance of street children. She is particularly moved by the plight of 12-year-old Celia, who took to the streets after her stepfather escaped prosecution for sexually abusing her. “The pattern is the same … children of the forgotten, harvested like the berries of the field,” says Naomi. Denfeld, a death penalty investigator, paints a distressingly realistic portrait of life on the street, but her writing sometimes becomes rather florid as the two elements of her story begin to intertwine.

From Publishers Weekly:

Thirty-year-old private investigator Naomi Cottle returns in Denfeld’s gripping follow-up to 2017’s “The Child Finder,” continuing her search for the sister she left behind when she fled captivity as a child. It won’t be easy: Naomi remembers nothing of the time before or during her captivity, not even her sister’s name. A series of recent murders of street kids has piqued her interest, and, during her investigation in Portland, Naomi meets 12-year-old Celia, who is living on the streets after her stepfather was acquitted for sexually molesting her; Celia is terrified that he’ll do the same to her little sister, Alyssa. Celia finds solace in the butterflies that live in her vivid imagination, in her friendship with fellow street kid Rich and, eventually, in Naomi, whose harrowing search – to which Celia may hold the key – leads to a predator who targets society’s most vulnerable. Denfeld depicts the bleak lives of street kids in heart-wrenching detail; the realities of homelessness are rendered in stark language, a striking juxtaposition against Celia’s fantasy world. Denfeld emphasizes throughout that even where there is horror, there is still hope, a theme borne out in the bittersweet conclusion. Readers will be enthralled.

From Book Riot’s 50 Must Read Crime Novels for Fall and Winter:

A year ago, Naomi, the investigator with an uncanny ability for finding missing children, made a promise that she would not take another case until she finds the younger sister who has been missing for years. Naomi has no picture, not even a name. All she has is a vague memory of a strawberry field at night, black dirt under her bare feet as she ran for her life. The search takes her to Portland, where scores of homeless children wander the streets like ghosts searching for money, food and companionship. The sharp-eyed investigator soon discovers that young girls have been going missing for months, many later found in the dirty waters of the river. Though she does not want to get involved, Naomi is unable to resist the pull of children in need – and the fear she sees in the eyes of a 12-year-old girl named Celia. Running from an abusive stepfather and an addict mother, Celia has nothing but hope in the butterflies – her guides and guardians on the dangerous streets. As danger creeps closer, Naomi and Celia find echoes of themselves in each other, forcing them each to consider the question: Can you still be lost even when you’ve been found?

Cheryl Strayed, bestselling author of “Wild,” “Tiny Beautiful Things,” “Torch” and “Brave Enough,” via Instagram:

This week two books by two luminous and lovely writers I admire were published. “The Butterfly Girl” by @rdenfeld and “This Particular Happiness” by @jackie.shannon.hollis are both books I highly recommend. One is a gritty, gorgeous novel; the other is an illuminating and beautiful memoir. I’m telling you about these books because I love them, not because I was asked to … (which frankly I never do, though I’m hounded to do so daily …). Just so you know.