Two books from two well-recognized authors, both targeted to middle grades, both with fluttery creatures in their titles and throughout the book in metaphor, both dealing with renewed understandings of maternal relationships, both including grandmotherly figures who garden, both involving a corpse which the girls must disguise, and both taking place near bodies of water. Weird, huh?
Summer of the Mariposas
Guadalupe Garcia McCall
Lee & Low Books
McCall won the Pura Belpre Award for her earlier verse novel, Under the Mesquite, a book I’ve been wanting to read (but our library doesn’t have it!!??). So I jumped at the chance to read an ARC of her newest novel, Summer of the Mariposas.
As a fun adventure story of 5 Mexican American sisters living on the border between Mexico and the U.S., this book has definite merit. There is a lot of between-the-lines information about Mexican and Mexican American culture (including such events as quinceaneros parties), a nice glossary of the some of the Spanish terms used, and terrific little Spanish proverbs or sayings at the beginning of each chapter. McCall also uses as her foundational inspiration an old Aztec legend of a woman named Llorona. I learned a lot!
However, this novel feels a bit too long to me. Also, even though I thoroughly enjoy fantasy and magical realism, this felt a bit much. Perhaps it was too realistic in some parts while melding too many spiritual/supernatural elements on the other? I’m not Catholic, nor am I very mystical; perhaps readers from those traditions might enjoy this type of novel more. I think part of my reaction may stem from the simple fact that the traditions reflected in this book are not my own (which means that it’s great I read it and learned about another culture!); my more conservative readers will need a heads up on the spirits from the past–both good and evil–that crop up in this story as well as the mystical element in general. [Look for this book in bookstores in the next week or so! If you’re interested, you might also request your local library to acquire it as well ☺}
I’m a huge fan of Pennypacker’s Clementine series, a modern day Ramona. If Summer of the Gypsy Moths is any indication, Pennypacker’s talents are best reserved for the likes of Clementine. Don’t get me wrong–this isn’t a bad book. It just doesn’t “shine” like it could. As with Mariposas, above, it’s a touch too long.
Pennypacker’s strengths in this book are in the plot itself (which is far-fetched but funny), her characterization, and her general portrayal of relationships between folks . These are her strengths in the Clementine books as well. But Gypsy Moths is firmly in the middle grades camp, and, therefore, contains more introspection about life, about parents, about people as individuals, and about self than do the chapter books of which Clementine is an example. And the introspection in this book gets a touch too much for me–it slows down an otherwise hilarious plot (I’ll just say that two foster kids end up having to bury a corpse under a pumpkin patch….).
All in all, both Summer of the Mariposas and Summer of the Gypsy Moths will find some definite fans. But they aren’t books I’ll end up recommending far and wide to any soul within hearing distance. Both feature broken families, estranged parents, siblings (and foster siblings) learning more about each other and how to cope/survive, and moderately resolved endings. But, sadly, those resolutions are for the plot; the families continue somewhat estranged and definitely broken.
Recommended ages: Summer of the Gypsy Moths for Middle Grades and Summer of the Mariposas for upper Middle Grades and Young Adult.