Isabel Prentice’s Letter Essay #3: When the Butterflies Came

I recently finished reading the novel, When the Butterflies Came. The 330 page book, genre specified as Mystery, was written by author Kimberley Griffiths Little. Throughout the novel, you will find the term ‘nipwisipwis’, which is the native Chuukese word for butterfly. Since the language and Islands of Chuuk are unfamiliar to me, it was interesting to learn about it and the many geography descriptions hidden throughout the book. Again and again the word  nipwisipwis was mentioned in the novel, thus relating to a certain signpost, again and again. Within the novel, you will get a little bit of everything. Some staggered emotions will pop out at you and claw at your heart making you feel and relate to the scene of the story. In the novel, traits of characters would consist of kindness, thoughtfulness, smartness, or nastiness, etc. Personally, I felt bubbly with excitement, angst, and crestfallen- not wanting to accept the story which the author tells. All of these emotions were milling around in my head, waiting for that game changer in the story that pieces together everything I’ve read. There were three main parts in the author’s layout for the story: the steady beginning, the action-packed middle, and the unexpected end. Each addition brought some other clue to the plot. Various critics praise Little and all of her previous and present work, each review positive, and staged different from the next, and all exhibiting how profound and experienced a writer Little is.

In the novel, When the Butterflies Came, Tara, the main character, goes on a fearless journey to save the butterflies (or nipwisipwis). It all starts with the funeral of Grammy Claire, Tara’s grandmother. While briefly describing the funeral and all of its happenings, the author adds that the lid of the casket was closed throughout the whole period of time. This brought me to a halt when I was reading because it makes you wonder and question why the author included that information. How does this minor detail turn into a major detail and impact the story? Shortly after the funeral, Tara received a letter, but it was from her deceased Grammy Claire. Little did Tara know, that a butler, Grammy Claire’s Butler Reginald, would arrive at her front doorstep claiming to have guided instructions to bring her and her sister, Riley, to their grandmother’s house. Once Riley and Tara arrived, they found more letters which held important keys to unlock very key things in the hunt. With Tara’s younger enthusiasm and Riley’s older brains, they were a perfect duo to continue the fight for the nipwisipwis. Within the 7th letter, the two girls were advised to flee the country for more experiments, more letters, and more keys- all located in Islands of Chuuk. Each letter withholds a more dangerous clue, each one getting closer to the final stage of their mission to save the nipwisipwis. Teaming up with Eloni, Grammy Claire’s former 13-year-old assistant, and many other island friends, Tara and Riley uncover the secrets of the butterflies. But, when it comes to life or death, Tara has to make a choice whether or not to go through with saving them.

If I had to compare any author to Little, and her style of genre and literature per say, I would most likely settle on the author Wendy Mass. There is some relation between their writing and their storytelling methods. Although they are very different people and writers, their word choices add a bit of magic to the story, literally. In some of Wendy Mass’s books, for example the series of 11 Birthdays and Finally, there is a certain element of enchantment within. Special powers, like telepathy or telekinesis, are very common traits of characters. Yet, with Little, and in  the novel When the Butterflies Came, people were not the magical ones, butterflies were. With these two authors, it is not just the genre they have in common, it is the theme as well.

I wish that the author would have extended the ending. Throughout the book, the author maintained a great and steady plot line. Yet, when the ending came around, there was a major twist and that was that. Once Tara learns who the real antagonist is, all is forgotten with a happy ending. I didn’t agree with what the author used as a final paragraph to conclude the novel, feeling like the finale of the story was a bit bland and underwhelming. Little’s technique of using shortened sentences and few words exaggerates the message conveyed. Usually, that is a great addition to the story, yet when I was in the process of reading it, I was genuinely disappointed in her decision of author craft. Due to the extremities and detail oriented aspects included in Little’s writing, the ending was a major setback.

The book reminded me of a scene from a movie. The narration perfect, multiple opportunities for dialogue, and of course the action involved in a thriller (maybe not that exciting, but pretty close). Another reason why this book would be great as a movie, would be the realist point of view the main character, Tara, has on life. That perspective is so important, because most of the films today are heavier subjects, although this book might gloss things over a little.

On a concluding note to my Letter Essay, there is one paragraph that attracted my full attention when reading:

‘“… But her lepidoptera work here on Chuuk was more important than anything else.”

“More important than us?” My voice is wobbly and tears sting my eyes, but I quickly look at the floor, my hair swinging down so nobody can see my splotchy face… Riley shoves back her chair, sputtering, “Grammy Claire knew we were about to lose the Doucet Mansion! That Mamma can’t work – she’s got no other skills besides flower arranging and throwing parties! I don’t know much about houses, but I do know that Grammy Claire’s house on Bayou Teche is a wreck and will need thousands in repairs and updating to sell. So me and Tara owning it doesn’t help us at all!…”’- 257, 258

What I saw in this passage was realism, realism, realism. When Tara and Riley read their grandmother’s will, they expected a contrasting response. The author didn’t gloss over the fact that life isn’t always peachy, that’s not the message she wanted to send. In my opinion, this paragraph represents the main moral of the story, “Be grateful for all the obstacles in your life. They have strengthened you as you continue with your journey”- unknown


When the Butterflies Came is a 9.5 out of 10, it really is a special book.



Isabel Prentice


The author posted this video on her YouTube channel after publishing the book in 2013!

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2 thoughts on “Isabel Prentice’s Letter Essay #3: When the Butterflies Came

  1. Nice blog post, Isabel. Remember: usually when an author consistently brings up an idea or image (“again and again”), it is usually symbolizing something. What do you think the butterflies symbolized in this book?

  2. Dear Isabel,

    This book really sounded of interest to me. I liked how you explained so much about the book in great detail, and it showed that you are a careful reader, who pays close attention to details. Something I liked, was that you mentioned a signpost. This showed that you made a connection to what we were doing in class, again and again. Keep up the great work!


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