Author: Guadalupe Garcia McCall
Odilia and her four little sisters have one rule: cinco hermanitas, together forever. The summer a swarm of butterflies takes over their town of Eagle Pass, Texas, the sisters spend their days at a secluded swimming hole fed from the Rio Grande. When they find a body in their hidden sanctuary, instead of calling the authorities, the sisters are determined to return him to his family in Mexico. But their journey will be anything but easy, for wicked creatures seek to ensnare them and the Garza sisters will need to be brave and faithful to one another if they wish to ever return home.
“It was a magical time, full of dreaminess and charm, a time to watch the mariposas emerge out of their cocoons, gather their courage, and take flight while we floated faceup in the water. And that’s exactly what we were doing the morning the body of a dead man drifted into our swimming haven.”
Guadalupe Garcia McCall’s Summer of the Mariposas combines elements from Homer’s The Odyssey and Mexican folklore in this epic tale of five sisters discovering what it means to be a family. One of my favorite elements about this novel is the relationship between the Garza sisters. With ages ranging from ten to fifteen, these five sisters have grown up as each other’s constant companions. The memory of their father, who abandoned their family a year earlier, still lingers, while some hold on to their anger, others cannot help but hope for his return. Largely left on their own while their mother works, the sisters feel that they only have each other to rely on. Odilia, as the eldest sister, straddles that line between being a sister as well as the one trying to be the voice of authority, which isn’t easy with four sisters who also think they know what’s best. I enjoyed Juanita, the second oldest, also known as a know-it-all as well as little Pita, but I struggled to really distinguish between the twins Velia and Delia.
Mexican folklore is not something I often come across in literature, so reading about these different myths provided a refreshing change of pace. The tale of La Llorona, or the “Weeping Woman”, plays a prominent role in this novel. While most stories surrounding this apparition has her playing a kind of “bogeyman”, Summer of the Mariposas presents her as a more tragic figure and a guide to the sisters on their journey. Also making an appearance are witches, psychics and the legendary animal known throughout Latin America as the chupacabras. Although the Garza sisters undergo various trials, I was kind of hoping they would feel a little more perilous. At times, their ordeals felt a little anticlimactic because I was expecting their foes to be much more wicked than they turned out to be and the tone of the novel to be much darker as a result.
Overall, I enjoyed Summer of the Mariposas, especially the personal journey the sisters experience, how they learn to appreciate one another and the parent they do have rather than dwelling on the one that left them.