Review: The Butterfly Tattoo by Philip Pullman

Blurb: Chris Marshall met the girl he was going to kill on a warm night in early June… He loved her the moment he set eyes on her – beautiful, secretive Jenny, who rushed headlong into his life. Fate brought them together, and it would mercilessly come between them, driving their innocent love affair down a dark road of danger and betrayal. And soon Chris would discover that truth and trust are not the simple ideals he once believed…

Title: The Butterfly Tattoo

Author: Philip Pullman

Publisher: Macmillan Children’s, an imprint of Pan Macmillan

Genre: Fiction, YA, Thriller, Romance


This story follows Chris, young teen living an otherwise unremarkable live in Oxford, as his life is turned upside down by the arrival of his first love and the threat of gangsters on a mission for vengeance.

We’ll start with the good points of this story, of which there definitely are a few. The main characters, Chris, Jenny and his parents are believable. They show different sides of their personalities which makes them three dimensional and allow us to feel sorry for them (particularly when we hear about Jenny’s situation and her past) and root for them (with Chris and Jenny’s blossoming relationship). The other characters (Barry, etc.) were also written convincingly which made everything feel ‘normal’ to me. Here I mean ‘normal’ in a sense that I could imagine these exactly people living down the road which helped me put myself into the story. As the book is from Chris’ point of view, it’s a lot of just normal life, bike riding and general teenage thoughts which were also written believably. I appreciated the view of Oxford that’s not all grand university buildings and rowing which a lot of people seem to think England is. This portrayal allowed me to feel more of a camaraderie with Chris as I so badly wanted things to go well for him.

As for what I disliked, this book often confused or frustrated me. Parts didn’t really feel like they made sense or had me questioning its relevance to the story. The whole sub plot of Barry’s sketchy past confused me as every time the story was told, it was different. I feel like this was purposeful to keep you guessing but I wasn’t a real fan.

[SPOILER ALERT] Similarly, Jenny’s brief babysitting job made me really uncomfortable which how she kissed Barry’s son. It was never dealt with but I got the feeling that we were supposed to be ok with it as Jenny had been abused as a child. My other main gripe was the ending, specifically Jenny’s writing of the word ‘Dad’ on the wall in her blood. Firstly, I wasn’t sure how she would have been able to do it having just been shot in her sleep and with Chris coming into the room only moments after the fact. I was most frustrated with why Pullman would have had her write it. Obviously it was in reference to the abuse she suffered from her father but just felt like a convenient way to remind the reader of that and didn’t add anything. It only added to my frustration that Chris interpreted it in such a silly way – making out that Jenny thought her dad had killed her, or that she wanted to say goodbye. Maybe I’m missing some hidden symbolism here but I just can’t see it.

Overall, I would recommend this book if you’re after a quick read. This was my first experience of Pullman so I’d maybe suggest starting with one of his more popular books to see what you think.

Rating: 3/5

Recommend?: Yes

Have you read this book? What did you think? Have you read anything else by this author? I’d love to know!

You can always find me over on Instagram and Twitter if you’d like to discuss this book (or any others that I’ve featured) in more detail 😌

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