Title: Summer of the Mariposas | Author: Guadalupe Garcia McCall | Jacket design: Isaac Stewart | Publisher: Tu Books, an imprint of LEE & LOW BOOKS Inc. | Date of Publication: 2012 | ISBN: 978-1-60060-900-8 | Number of pages: 355 | Age Level: 11-16 | Literary Trend: Spotlight on Diversity, Tough Girls, Survival Stories
McCall, G.G. (2012). Summer of the Mariposas. New York, NY: Tu Books.
While taking a leisurely swim near the U.S. and Mexico Border, five sisters are unexpectedly confronted with mortality in the form of a dead man’s body. Odilla and her sisters presume that the man must have been crossing the border when he drown and almost instantaneously, the sisters decide to return the dead man back to his home town and possibly visit their grandmother in the process. They rationalize that since they are the epitome of “latchkey” children, mother working all the time and absent father, they won’t be missed if they cross over for a short while. Like the mariposas (butterflies) that dominated the summer sky in South Texas that year, the sisters magically cross the borders of reality and epic fantasy in a modern day Southwestern ode to Homer’s Odyssey. Along the way the sisters, led by Odilla, are confronted by supernatural challenges from some of Mexican mythologies greatest villains and spooks and their own sense of self-worth as they struggle with the abandonment and socio-economic related identity issues.
Guadalupe Garcia McCall offers readers a primer to south western mythology and includes a helpful 16 page glossary that explains the Spanish text that she uses liberally in the book. Her frequent code-switching might leave some young readers puzzled, but those that are multilingual will appreciate her inclusion of esoteric language that is often heard only at home. The frequency of Spanish text however, might have been better served with footnotes rather than a glossary at the end of the book, in order to keep the story flowing for non-Spanish speaking readers.
Kirkus Reviews declared Mariposas one of the “Best Teen Books of 2011,” yet offer that the story “is sometimes bogged down by moralizing and adventures that don’t always seem to support the plot” and that it displays “dialog-heavy… reflection (at) a level of maturity incongruous with behavior exhibited in prior pages.” School Library Journal focuses on the altruistic nature of the plot and finds that some readers might find the “magical elements somewhat upsetting…”
Bell Hooks, author, educator, and social activist, in her book Feminism is for Everybody states that, “Children’s literature is one of the most crucial sites for feminist education for critical consciousness precisely because beliefs and identities are still being formed.” McCall persistently brought up how Odilla felt inferior ethnically, economically, and with her body image, yet she fails to “offer constructive strategies for change,” which Hooks explains are necessary for “developing healthy self-esteem and self-love” in order to be fully “liberated.” Some my question whether the lack of resolution to these problems makes McCall complicit in the perpetuation of these forms of oppression. Even the cover of the book, which features five slender young girls floating towards a beautiful sunset is a contrast to the body images that are described in the plot. Furthermore, the dialog is a bit tedious and simplistic at times that readers, especially older teens and adults, might choose to skip some pages altogether and unintentionally miss out on key points in the story. The well thought out plot of Summer of the Mariposas might have been better suited with a stronger narrator’s voice and minimal dialog considering the vast morbidity of the tale.
Readers who are actively seeking books with adventure driven plots set in the southwest might want to explore the works of Victor Villaseñor, which carry similar magical scenarios, but are penned to perfection. Similarly, the title Into the Beautiful North by Luís Alberto Urrea offers a masterfully written border crossing plot that explores themes of redemption, faith and humor, which young adult readers will be able to navigate just as easily as Summer of the Mariposas.