The Knife and the Butterfly

  • Interest Level: Grade 9 - Grade 12   ·  
  • Reading Level: Grade 7

After a marijuana-addled brawl with a rival gang, 16-year-old Azael wakes up to find himself surrounded by a familiar set of concrete walls and a locked door. Juvie again, he thinks. But he can’t really remember what happened or how he got picked up. He knows his MS13 boys faced off with some punks from Crazy Crew. There were bats, bricks, chains. A knife. But he can’t remember anything between that moment and when he woke behind bars.

Azael knows prison, and something isn’t right about this lockup. No phone call. No lawyer. No news about his brother or his homies. The only thing they make him do is watch some white girl in some cell. Watch her and try to remember.

Lexi Allen would love to forget the brawl, would love for it to disappear back into the Xanax fog it came from. And her mother and her lawyer hope she chooses not to remember too much about the brawl—at least when it’s time to testify.

Lexi knows there’s more at stake in her trial than her life alone, though. She’s connected to him, and he needs the truth. The knife cut, but somehow it also connected.

Format Your Price
Interest Level Grade 9 - Grade 12
Reading Level Grade 7
Genre Fiction, Young Adult
Category Diversity
Copyright 2012
Publisher Lerner Publishing Group
Imprint Carolrhoda Lab ®
Language English
Number of Pages 216
Publication Date 2012-01-01
Reading Counts! Level 6.2
BISACS YAF046140, YAF045000, YAF011000
Dewey [Fic]
Dimensions 5.25 x 7.5
Lexile 790
ATOS Reading Level 4.9
Accelerated Reader® Quiz 148967
Accelerated Reader® Points 7.0
Features Author/Illustrator biography, Awards, and Reviewed


  • YALSA Popular Paperbacks for Young Adults, Winner, 2015
  • SSLI Book Award Honor Book, Commended, 2013
  • Eliot Rosewater Indiana High School Book Award Reading List, Long-listed, 2012
  • School Library Journal Top Books for Youth in Detention, Winner, 2012
  • Tayshas Reading List, Winner, 2012


The ALAN Review

“Perez gives the reader sympathetic yet critical insight into the world of gangs in Houston, Texas, and is careful to show the narratives of loss that drive so many young people to join them.” —The ALAN Review

Library Media Connection

“This is a well-written, compelling story of the lost lives of young gang members.” —Library Media Connection


“Based on a true incident, this work of fiction is gritty, sad, and not for the faint-hearted.” —VOYA


“An uncompromising look at two characters most readers would otherwise look away from.” —Booklist

School Library Journal

“Azael is a dynamic and sympathetic main character with an authentic voice…. This hard-hitting novel [will be an] an assured success in libraries serving high school students.” —School Library Journal

Kirkus Reviews

“An unflinching portrait with an ending that begs for another reading.” —Kirkus Reviews

Jordan Sonnenblick

“Like Ashley Hope Pérez, I have been a teacher in inner-city Houston and a writer of young adult fiction. I am in a perfect position to watch in awe as she completely nails our students’ experiences in her harrowing, heart-rending, and ultimately hopeful The Knife and the Butterfly. This is the book I wish I’d had the guts to write!” —Jordan Sonnenblick, author of After Ever After and Drums, Girls, and Dangerous Pie

Author: Ashley Hope Pérez

Ashley Hope Pérez is the author of the YA novels Out of Darkness (Carolrhoda Lab, 2015), The Knife and the Butterfly (Carolrhoda Lab, 2012), and What Can't Wait (Carolrhoda Lab, 2011). Her debut novel What Can't Wait won a spot on the 2012 YALSA Best Fiction for YA list, and The Knife and the Butterfly was included in the 2015 YALSA Popular Paperbacks list. Ashley grew up in Texas and taught high school in Houston before pursuing a PhD in comparative literature. She is now a visiting assistant professor of comparative studies at The Ohio State University and spends most of her time reading, writing, and teaching on topics from global youth narratives to Latin American and Latina/o fiction. She lives in Ohio with her husband, Arnulfo, and their son, Liam Miguel. Visit her online at