In a world where the skies are filled with superheroes and supervillains, 15-year-old Danny's dreams come true when the fa
"Genetics aren't destiny."
In a world where the skies are filled with superheroes and supervillains, 15-year-old Danny's dreams come true when the famous Dreadnought perishes in her arms and passes his powers on to her - powers that include super-strength, flight, and an outer body that matches the girl Danny's always been inside.
And, well... I loved it! Danny is going to steal the hearts of so many readers. This is such a beautiful ownvoices work and it shows from the very first chapter when we meet Danny sneakily buying nail polish. She tells us:
Painting my toes is the one way I can take control. The one way I can fight back. The one way I can give voice to this idea inside me that gets heavier every year: I'm not supposed to be a boy.
The author gets the balance absolutely perfect between light, quirky superhero novel, and a darker, thought-provoking, coming-of-age story. The flying, world-saving and GIRL POWER make this a wonderful, heart-warming read. The other members of the former Dreadnought's group - "Legion Pacifica" - think Danny is too young to take on the villains and save the world, but that just gets added to the long list of mistakes people make about her.
However, as noted above, there are some darker aspects of Dreadnought. The author doesn't shy away from portraying the reality of transphobia and how difficult it is to grow up with a father who wants to make you a "real man". Many trans slurs are thrown around, and Graywytch (another of the Legion Pacifica members) deliberately misgenders Danny.
Additionally, Danny must now deal with the lingering eyes of certain men and boys, other forms of sexism, and the assumption that she now wants to start dating the boys at her school - which is incorrect because Danny is, in fact, gay. It's fantastic to see, despite all of this, that Danny comes out on top again and again. She's allowed to be weak and scared and unsure, but in the end, she knows who she is and who she's always been. She calls out the boys on their sexism:
“I don’t like boys, any boys. If I did like boys, I wouldn’t like boys who talk to me like you just did.”
Though a superhero story, Dreadnought is first and foremost about its characters. Its women, I should say. A diverse array of women drive the novel - from the white, gay and trans Danny, to the Latina Calamity, to Doc Impossible who is coded as non-white (Her dark hair is pulled back in a braid) to Utopia who is - wait for it - a cyborg villain.
The character dynamics - particularly between Danny and Calamity - shine throughout. Reading this the weekend of the Women's March made me feel quite emotional. This message of female solidarity is so important; and add to it a much-needed, complex, trans superheroine and you have one hell of a powerful book. I can't wait for more.
They want me to cooperate in my own destruction. They want me to tell them it's not true. They want me to help them believe the lie. Never again.
I am NOT okay. Paper Butterflies is very compelling, but read it when you are in a good mental place. An ext
“But at what point is a child to blame?”
I am NOT okay. Paper Butterflies is very compelling, but read it when you are in a good mental place. An extra warning to those sensitive to scenes of physical and psychological abuse.
I don't know how to talk about this book, or if I should really give it four stars, which means "really liked it" when I absolutely hated it. It crushed my heart. I actually felt a little panicked at times, like I couldn't breathe inside June's head. I found it hard to sleep while thinking about this book. It made me feel quite ill, if I’m honest.
Are the best books those where the author is so convincing that it becomes hard to separate the book you are reading from reality? If so, Paper Butterflies deserves all the stars. I had to keep reminding myself that it wasn't real for the sake of my sanity. I recently said in my review of Allegedly that the best books are those that make me furious for the characters, but this book made me beyond furious - I felt terrified.
If I can control my emotions for a second I'll try to tell you a bit about it. The story follows June from her young childhood to early adult years, moving between the "Before" and the "After". During her childhood and teen years, she lives with her abusive stepmother, Kathleen, who plays vindictive mind games; her stepsister - Megan - who acts as an accomplice; and her completely clueless father who refuses to see what is right in front of his eyes.
June is black, like her deceased mother, which further makes her an outsider in her white family, and in her predominantly white school. Her torture from her stepmother and schoolmates, it seems, never ends. The only reprieve she gets is in the form of her secret friend, Blister, and his eccentric family.
It's a book about how family members, teachers, society, all authority figures can fail someone so entirely. It's about how the truth can be grossly twisted, to devastating effect.
What is interesting, however, is the way the book examines cycles of violence and abuse, asking us to consider at the book's darkest moments: what horrors must have happened to Kathleen to make her this way? How much fear must Megan live in to assist her mother in abusing her stepsister? We are reminded that no one is born evil.
“But Megan hurt me.” My tears are sudden and angry. “I know.” “I don’t feel sorry for her.” “I do,” Reverend Shaw says calmly.
I've spoken before about how I think one of the most truly scary things is to tell the truth and have no one believe you. To have people believe you're the bad guy, that you have some hidden agenda... this book is that feeling x1000. I was so scared and horrified for June. I kept turning the pages in a desperate need to know what happened to her.
This book hurt me so bad. The unfairness, the injustice in Paper Butterflies was almost too much for me. It was a claustrophobic, suffocating, horrifying book. And yet, somehow, I feel the need to read everything Heathfield has ever written.
The most pervasive aspect of the Default Man identity is that it masquerades very efficiently as 'normal' - and 'normal' along with 'natural', is a d
The most pervasive aspect of the Default Man identity is that it masquerades very efficiently as 'normal' - and 'normal' along with 'natural', is a dangerous word, often at the root of hateful prejudice.
Grayson Perry is known mostly for his artwork and transvestism. Here he draws on his own experiences with masculinity and femininity to explore traditional ideas about what it means to be masculine, and challenge those ideas. It's an easy, interesting read, complete with some great artwork.
Where it fails a little is when considering this alongside other books about gender. It works better as a memoir on Perry's growing up and transvestism. The Descent of Man is very personal - which alternated between being a positive and a negative. His experiences as a boy trying on his mother's dresses and redefining his own personal gender norms were great to read about and kept the pages turning, but what this book adds to the discussion on gender and masculinity is less impressive.
Perry doesn't cite any references, though his ideas have already been brought forward by numerous other writers - most notably, Judith Butler in Gender Trouble. Anyone who has read a little into gender studies already knows what he tells us: that masculinity is a social construct; that the patriarchy and gender binary are damaging to women, men and those who identify as both or neither; that a better world, a better notion of masculinity, would allow men to be weak, vulnerable and emotional.
He sets out with two clear agendas: 1) To expose the social construct of masculinity, and 2) Convince men it is beneficial to them to change the traditional idea of what it means to be "masculine".
He does the first mostly by reiterating the work of other writers. By far his most valuable contribution to the gender discussion is his idea of the "Default Man" - an oblivious creature who doesn't see the detriment to society caused by traditional ideas of gender because they tend to work in his favour. Too bad Perry makes way too many generalizations with this idea without pausing to consider how some might intentionally use it to their own benefit, or simply not care about the harm it does because of their personal beliefs or gains.
Additionally, by his own admission, he wishes to convince these "Default Men" that they should change, and despite showing his own experiences and how a new interpretation of masculinity could benefit him, I don't think he did that. The later chapters of the book lost the initial focus and I felt it lacked a strong conclusion as to how the "Default Man" would benefit from a change. The DM, by his nature, believes in traditional masculinity that shuns male weakness, so offering him the opportunity to be weak feels, itself, like a weak argument.
Also, though he expresses many ideas aligned with feminist ideology, he refers to them as "the feminists", a separate group - it seems - from himself. And though I don’t believe he meant this to be derogatory, his clear desire to distance himself from the word was unfortunate, given the book seems in many ways a feminist one.
Still, a quick and interesting read. I especially liked Perry's acknowledgement of the masculine and feminine traits that can exist alongside one another in anyone. They are not mutually exclusive. In fact, this reminded me of one of my favourite songs: When I Was a Boy by Dar Williams.