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.

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Interest Level Grade 9 - Grade 12
Reading Level Grade 7
Genre Young Adult
Category Diverse Books: Race & Ethnicity, Diversity, SEL: A Self-Awareness, SEL: C Social Awareness, Social Emotional Learning
Copyright 2012
Publisher Lerner Publishing Group
Imprint Carolrhoda Lab ®
Language English
Number of Pages 216
Publication Date 2014-08-01
Reading Counts! Level 6.2
Text Type Fiction—Mystery
BISACS YAF011000, YAF046140, YAF045000
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

Author: Ashley Hope Pérez

Ashley Hope Pérez is the author of award-winning books for young adults, including What Can’t Wait, The Knife and the Butterfly, and Out of Darkness. Out of Darkness was described by The New York Times as a “layered tale of color lines, love and struggle” and was named one of Booklist’s “50 Best YA Books of All Time.” It also won the 2016 Tomás Rivera Book Award, the 2016 Américas Award, and a 2016 Printz honor for excellence in young adult literature from the American Library Association. When she’s not writing or hanging out with her two beautiful sons, Liam Miguel and Ethan Andrés, Ashley teaches world literature at The Ohio State University. Visit her online at or find her on Twitter and Instagram: @ashleyhopeperez.


  • 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
  • Tayshas Reading List, Winner, 2012
  • School Library Journal Top Books for Youth in Detention, 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