A Butterfly in Winter
by Tara Entwistle-Clark
Published by Tara Entwistle-Clark
Realistic YA/Social Issues
Contains talk of sexuality and strong language, as well as a scene of sexual assault
Heat Level: Tame
Length: 322 pages
Allison Stafford is fourteen. As if that is not enough to deal with in itself, her parents suddenly move her from her small town in Vermont to suburban Michigan, all in the middle of her freshman year of high school. For Allison, there is more to learn at her new school than just finding her way around. Soon she is attempting to make sense of her newly discovered sexuality, and wondering what it takes to fit in with the “cool” people at her school. Despite tragedy and several mistakes, Allison manages to survive. This novel leads the reader through the murky depths of high school, and reminds us all of the importance of true friendship.
1 + 1 = 2
Math is cut and dry, black and white. Life, on the other hand is not. Life can be messy, confusing and scary and no one knows that better than a teenager. Although growing up has its exhilarating moments, it has even more moments of questioning. Teens question themselves, their worth, their parents, the rules…When they think they’ve figured things out, their friends may tell them they’re all wrong. It’s a lot to navigate. Gone are the carefree days of playing on the playground, blowing bubbles, riding bikes and getting ice cream from the ice cream truck.
In today’s world, one of the trickiest things to navigate is a teenager’s sexuality. As parents we often dread the very necessary “talk” about the birds and the bees. Although we are sexual beings, we aren't exactly comfortable talking to our kids about sex. Our culture, however, has no qualms portraying it in all sorts of ways. Teens are assaulted with a barrage of images, articles, movies and songs regarding the subject.
My guest today is Tara Entwistle-Clark, author of Butterfly In Winter. She’s here to share some of her background, her motivation and why she felt it important to write about this very tumultuous time in every young adult’s life.
- Tell us a little bit about your book and its title. What made you choose the title that you did.
A Butterfly in Winter is a YA coming of age story about friendship, peer pressure, relationships, and the emergence of sexuality in teenage girls. I chose the title because I believed it reflected the theme effectively. A girl’s psyche and emotional stability is fragile, like a butterfly, and high school is like the winter that may be impossible for the butterfly (or in this case, a girl’s emotional strength) to survive.
-What do you hope to teach or convey to your readers in writing this story?
The main point is that no one is alone in the things that happen to them. For Allison, she learns who her real friends are, even if she has to go through hell to discover them. I also think it’s important for teen readers to realize that much of what they face is normal. Allison has normal concerns for a teenage girl, but most girls her age don’t have anyone to talk to about them. We live in a society that sexualizes everything and it’s hard when the messages are mixed. On one end, media pushes us to become sexual at a young age and seems to mock people who don’t buy into that. For example, a brand like Pink exists. It’s targeted at very young girls and now we have 12 year olds running around with the word “juicy” on their butts. That’s insane. On the other hand, many people are becoming more conservative and parents and often teachers and adults are telling these same girls that they should not be attracted to boys, that they should not be thinking about sex. So what ends up happening is we abandon these kids to navigate this nonsense all by themselves– and that’s why we see things like what happened in Steubenville or in California.
-As written in the excerpt on Amazon, as we get older life becomes a lot less black and white. Real life can be messy. As you and I have discussed earlier, your story involves some difficult subject matter. Why did you feel it important to include this particular subject in the story?
Like I said, real life is hard. However, we are a media saturated society but the media lies to us. Reality TV tells young people that they can be famous for nothing – or for something immoral. Growing up is hard enough, but we are often confronted with challenges that make us question our values. I think a balance is important, but we seem to draw a line that says “this stuff is okay for adults but you can’t think about it until you’re an adult,” but then we don’t give kids tools to get through adolescence. I don’t think kids should be doing many of the things they’re doing, but I also think we can’t pretend they won’t. It amazes me that we put all of this stuff out there for them – like reality TV, music, movies, social media, etc. – and then we demand that they handle it well. There are girls taking pictures of themselves naked and sending those pictures out over the internet – at 13! Why is no one saying anything?! When we do, it’s to punish or mock that girl. I don’t see how that helps, either.
- In writing a story and conveying the details of an event, a writer must decide how much detail to give, what to describe for the reader and what to leave to their imagination. You shared with me that your book involves a very graphic scene of sexual assault. What influenced your decision to describe this scene in a graphic way rather than more indirectly?
I think it needs to be said. A significant number of girls and women are sexually assaulted every year. We have no problem sexualizing people for entertainment, but we don’t talk about the dark side of sex. I don’t think it’s healthy to pretend that Jersey Shore behavior doesn’t have its consequences. I also think that people should know what actually happens. When you’re young and someone warns you of something in vague terms, it isn’t real. I remember sitting through countless assemblies about drunk driving and it not sinking in until one day, the cops brought in pictures of a mangled car and then a mother stood up and told us the horrible details about her son’s death. Sometimes, we need to face the way things really are.
- What ages would you say A Butterfly in Winter is appropriate for? Describe your target audience.
I would say high school, but really any reader who is sexually aware. That doesn’t mean sexually active, but it’s funny to say the book should be limited to sixteen and up when Allison is 14 and I’ve had students who are far more experienced that she is and they were even younger. Sadly, I think girls are becoming sexualized even younger than ever –which depresses me. So teen, because I can’t deal with the reality of that.
- What motivated you to write on the topic of high school, its pressures and pitfalls?
What’s funny is that I worked as a high school teacher for ten years, but not until after I wrote the novel. However, I never really forgot how challenging high school was and I don’t think anything has changed. In fact, it’s likely gotten worse. With modern technology, it has become even easier to destroy a person. Being a teenage girl is hard.
- This may overlap a bit with the last question. What experiences have you had in life that prepared you to write this story?
Many of the experiences Allison has were similar to my own. I moved in high school, I faced my own share of peer pressure, and I’ve survived destructive relationships. I think that’s a part of the story, too. The fact that a great deal of women have had these experiences was one of the main reasons it felt like it was worth writing.
- Can you describe your favorite scene in the book without spoiling the book for readers?
I love the scene when the group of them goes to play hide and seek in the supermarket. I think it captures the carefree innocence that is still possible and it gives some hope – even if, in this case, it doesn’t last.
-Tell us a little bit about the covers for the book. I notice there are two covers, one for the paperback and a different one for the e-book.
The paperback cover was designed for me when it was published years ago. I designed the ebook cover. They both capture the basic concepts – teenager and emotional drama. The paperback cover clearly identifies relationships as a main focus, whereas the ebook cover showcases the angst more.
-Which is your favorite cover and why?
I like them both. I opted for the black and white one for the ebook, though, because I felt like it was important that the book was not mistaken for a happy and light romance novel. This is a pretty depressing work and I think the ebook cover showcases that well.
- A Butterfly in Winter was published back in 2005 so you’ve been writing for quite some time. What was your first published book and what have you learned over the years that might be helpful to other authors?
This was my first published book and I haven’t released anything new, although I am currently working on two novels. One fantasy and another realistic YA title. What I think was most important in what I learned is that feedback needs to be taken for what it is. I went through so much critique with this book and now when I read it, I feel like I don’t even know what the voice was supposed to be. I would like to go back and edit it, but I can’t, because I hear too many other voices in the writing. I’ve learned now to listen to what feels right – and ignore the rest. At the end of the day, it’s my book and I need to stick to my story.
Thanks for sharing with us Tara.
Thanks for sharing with us Tara.
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Butterfly in Winter is a story of 14 year old Allison making new friends after changing schools. It portrays very well the conflicting thoughts a teenager may face as they decide how to conduct themselves. Wanting to do the “cool” thing, not wanting to look stupid, wanting to fit in, teens often sacrifice their true identity until they truly don’t know who they are or what they think. This story shows the importance of parental supervision, opportunities abounding when adults are absent to fall into difficult and tempting situations.
Although many people approach sexual relations from differing moral perspectives, I would say most acknowledge the vast difference between a loving relationship and one of convenience where people are treated similar to a towel used after a shower that’s tossed aside. Tara Entwistle-Clark has done a great job of portraying these differences in her book Butterfly in Winter. Growing up is not black and white. The need to fit in is intense. The mixed messages are many. As parents we need to spend more time discussing hard issues with our teens to prepare them to navigate the waters of adolescence more successfully and without some of the pain Allison experiences in this story. We need to teach our daughters to respect themselves and our sons to treat young women with the dignity they deserve.