Sphinxie and Cadence. Promised to each other in childhood. Drawn together again as teens. Sphinxie is sweet, compassionate, and plain. Cadence is brilliant, charismatic. Damaged. And diseased. When they were kids, he scarred her with a knife. Now, as his illness progresses, he becomes increasingly demanding. She wants to be loyal–but fears for her life. Only the ultimate sacrifice will give this love an ending.
Angelais has tackled a tricky subject, with Cadence’s sociopathy at the heart of the story’s conflict. And the dangerous thread of his personality is a current that carries the story along, and keeps the reader on edge — wondering if, when he’ll snap. (And he does snap.)
But despite this captivating pull — the story is difficult to read. It is disturbing — not so much because of Cadence’s sociopathy (after all, his violent and emotionless tendencies are explained by his mental illness) — but because of Sphinx’s continued loyalty to him. She admits she is afraid of him; admits she knows he is mentally unwell (as well as physically ill, as he is suffering from leukemia) — and admits that she is afraid of him. Even afraid that being with him could kill her.
And yet. She continues to remain by his side; by her own choice and her own actions, she stays with him — knowingly putting herself in danger. And it is this conscious choice that makes Breaking Butterflies such a difficult read. Because the real question isn’t what’s wrong with Cadence? (We know. He’s a sociopath.) But what’s wrong with Sphinx? Because by her own account, she is just a normal, boring girl … but one who willingly puts herself at the whims of a violent boy, who has already caused her physical harm and clearly states his intentions to do so again.
It’s this choice that makes the story hard to read; because any normal person would stay away from Cadence. It doesn’t matter that he is dying; Cadence is also mentally unwell and that makes him dangerous. Sphinx’s perpetual insistence that she stay by his side is unacceptable for such a supposedly normal character. As the narrator, she is endlessly frustrating, as she continues to explore Cadence’s mental illness — and excuse his dangerous behavior.
Cadence is a disturbing character. But in many ways, I found Sphinx to be more disturbing because of her readiness to give herself over to Cadence’s dangerous, violent, even deadly whims.
Breaking Butterflies is in stores August 26th.