Danny and I go way back to 10th grade. It was my first year back in public school after a not-so-successful freshman year in Catholic school. A few of my grade and middle school friends had returned to Collinwood, but he was the only person that I didn’t know when I looked at the freshman section of my brother’s yearbook. Being the likeable kid I was back then, I decided he would be my friend when school started.
We had a lot in common. We both liked writing for the school newspaper and were both interested in working on the yearbook as seniors because we were determined to make it the best one ever. He was the only boy – including my then-boyfriend – my mother liked. We were thick as thieves that senior summer heading into the big move to Ohio State, but once we got to college, we parted ways: I was on the party train having been sheltered my whole life and he was putting that scholarship to good use.
Almost 15 years later, we both ended up in the same city for a brief period of time. He was headed to Texas to pursue his doctorate and I had just landed a job as a State budget analyst for the legislature. We both still loved writing, the difference being that he was going to write a book and I wanted to be a full-time blogger. We stayed in touch, encouraging each other to stay writing once he left for Texas.
When he asked me to read his novel and write a review, I was honored and a little scared. Should I write it journalistically or conversationally? Can I be objective because we’re friends? After that small anxiety attack passed, I did what I do best: read and write.
The Butterfly Lady by Danny M. Hoey, Jr.
Gabriel Smith, a gay black male in Cleveland in the late 1960s, is the most self-accepting of all the characters in The Butterfly Lady. He understands the effects his choice of expression has on himself and those close to him and accepts the repercussions of those who simultaneously fear and hate him. He acknowledges his hurts and losses and learns to find a piece of happiness through it all.
What I found positively surprising is how Hoey addresses the complex issues of sexuality, sexism and racism in the story by intertwining the other characters’ perception of themselves in relation to Gabriel’s life: Lee, the Asian shopkeeper who wants to protect Gabriel like a son; Virginia, a black woman from California who wanted more than her mother ever had, but ended up with a half-white son that she doesn’t love; Chance, Virginia’s son, who is trying to deal with racism for his whiteness in the predominately black neighborhood and growing up without a father figure to guide him; and Gabriel’s father, Amos, who wants to be a preacher despite having any “fire” for the Word of God. Hoey addresses each of these characters’ struggles with love, loneliness, self-acceptance and self-worth in a poignant, realistic way.
While the story is engaging, I’m fond of having my bearings and had some trouble knowing when the events were taking place. Initially, I thought the book took place in the 70s, then the 80s and finally the late 60s. While this doesn’t take away from the story, each decade’s political correctness and acceptance of sexuality, sexism and racism is different. I also had trouble placing the racial make-up of some of the characters. That’s a fault of mine as I like knowing everything up front instead of letting events and people unfold in the story.
Overall, The Butterfly Lady is a good book that captured my attention and made me reexamine how I perceive those who are unlike me. I recommend it to anyone with an open mind. If you are homophobic, racist, sexist or any other ist, read it anyway. It may spark something in you to reevaluate your beliefs.