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Reviewed by Tammy Ruggles for Readers' Favorite
Butterflies & Characters by Liz Hsu is a moving young adult romance novel that will break your heart as well as inspire it. The main character, Rayanne Ericson, is fifteen years old and is confused about what's been going on with her health lately. Her hands are swollen, her knees hurt, and there is a rash on her face in the image of a butterfly. She lives in Georgia with her mom but goes to live with her dad for a while in Michigan, where she is admitted to the hospital and diagnosed with lupus, something she knows nothing about. Because she wants to spend time with the dad she really doesn't know and have access to better healthcare, she stays with her dad for a semester instead of returning to her mom in Georgia. The other lead character, Charles Wong, who is a senior and plays piano competitively and belongs to a robotics club, has known Ray forever because his mother and her father are best friends. It scares him to see Ray sick like this. He hasn't had a girlfriend before and is now drawn to her. He tries to cheer her up and makes things brighter for her, even when she is losing the ability to do some of the things she loves--drawing and running, due to inflammation in her joints. With Charles being the logical choice for this year's valedictorian, and a Caltech hopeful, Ray is unsure of where she stands with him, or if there is even a chance for them to have something together. Between deciding whether to go back to Georgia and dealing with her autoimmune illness, Ray also has to sort out the romance that is budding between them.
As you read this engrossing novel, you will appreciate that the author has lupus, just as Ray does. This gives an overall feel of authenticity and weight to the emotion of the story. I really like Ray's spunky personality, and the dynamics of the relationships she has with the other characters, from her mother to her father, but especially with Charles, who is a breath of fresh air. His intelligence and talents, combined with Ray's strengths and personality traits, make for a dynamic couple. You find yourself rooting for them, and you want the best for Ray. The drama is well-constructed, with perfect pacing and a plot that pulls you so far in that you have to know how it turns out for everyone. I especially like how Liz covered lupus in the story, educating readers along the way. As for the dialogue, it's natural, and the multiple POVs work very well. Butterflies & Characters by Liz Hsu is a must-read for YA romance fans looking for depth and heart.