Reviewed by Andrea Marks-Joseph
An exceptional memoir told in a fresh, modern voice
Chasing Butterflies is the true story of a young woman coping with her father’s death, and much more. Author Ashley Bisman experiences devastating tragedy in losing him on 9/11, but somehow, the story remains inherently hopeful. The memoir as a whole is buoyant, sparkling with the promise of full life. Her prose allows us to navigate this specific grief, this universal grief, and to find a way to continue living and loving after tragedy.
Through poignant flashbacks and contemplative narration, Chasing Butterflies brings its readers through the story of Ashley’s childhood through adulthood. Echoes of her grief seamlessly weave through the past and present day: longing for independence, searching for love.
Ashley is doing her best to thrive in a world that keeps reminding her of 9/11. She shares memories of her father that make us smile, alongside moments that make our hearts sink. We meet the rest of her family, each of them coping with the loss differently, and are transported into a dynamic that intertwines a sense of home with the discomfort and frustration that is collective grieving. Bisman conveys the feeling so accurately. She has a talent for cataloguing details that transport us into the moment in a way that reminds us that we are grounded. Her descriptions feel almost tactile, evoking an immediate sense of the cologne, the classroom eraser, the spilled coffee.
The places Ashley visits throughout Chasing Butterflies come alive through her prose, even when they’re disappointing: A visit to a colorful Polish cemetery; the sentimental beach trip she takes with her boyfriend; watching the Boston Marathon on television and pacing her apartment waiting for an update; her beautiful castle wedding. The family home is wrecked by Hurricane Sandy, and we feel this shock with her; when Ashley finally visits the 9/11 Memorial, we feel even more. Bisman’s experiences are so vividly tied to these locations that inner feelings manage to take up real space.
Chasing Butterflies reminds us that grief, even in mass tragedy, is still so personal, and that the impact of a loss is ever-changing.
Also, I’m a sucker for when a memoirist finally meets the person they’re going to be with. The pleasant surprise of her realizing that this one feels different, that this is the reason why. There’s a love evident in these simple interactions. I’m glad to be here for it.
Bisman presents this love story amidst a backdrop of losing a father, and establishes the connection over that loss. It’s a story of a grieving woman learning to trust herself, to let someone else in, to allow herself good things. A once-in-a-lifetime story.
Genre: Memoir / Love & Loss
Print Length: 284 pages
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