A girls’ roadtrip, a mother-daughter relationship interrupted, and a search for family all mirror the great autumn migration of the Monarch butterfly in Mary Alice Monroe’s, The Butterfly’s Daughter, making it a perfect summer read.
This is chick lit for nature lovers. Best-selling author Monroe weaves universal female themes–the importance of family, forgiveness, and second chances–with a young Mexican-American woman’s coming-of-age. The tale incorporates the magic of the Monarch butterfly migration as well as themes of metamorphosis.
Luz, the main character, lives in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, the daughter of a German father and a Mexican mother. She never knew her father, and her mother, Mariposa, abandoned her at age five, leaving her to be raised by Abuela, her grandmother.
Abuela is the neighborhood “butterfly lady,” who entertains neighbors and children alike with her colorful butterfly garden and the raising and release of Monarch butterflies. Abuela and the rest of Luz’s family are from Angangueo, Mexico, one of several ancestral roosting spots for millions of migrating Monarch butterflies.
The Butterfly’s Daughter By Mary Alice Monroe 382 pages Gallery Books/Simon & Schuster
When Abuela dies unexpectedly one autumn morning, the devastated Luz decides to take leave of her job and her boyfriend and travel with Abuela’s cremated ashes “home” to Angangueo in a beat-up Volkswagen beetle she names El Toro. The trip had been debated for years, but never taken.
Her voyage of self discovery follows the epic flight path of migrating Monarch butterflies as Luz travels south from Wisconsin through Texas and across the border to the Michoacán mountains. Along the way, she makes unplanned stops, takes surprise detours, and enjoys sidebar adventures that will tempt the reader to find her own VW bug for an adventurous outing. The interesting characters Luz meets become her friends, enriching her journey, learning as much from her as she does from them.
The book has connections to both Austin and San Antonio. Just outside Milwaukee, Luz encounters Billy MCall, a laconic, intriguing scientist modeled after Austin’s “cowboy entomologist” Dr. Bill Calvert. Billy teaches Luz to tag Monarchs. Later, she spends several days in San Antonio, tracking down her aunt. There the plot takes an unexpected, pivotal turn.
While the symbolism of the journey may be too transparent for some, the story is poignant, entertaining and educational. Each chapter begins with a fact about the Monarch migration, and Monarch butterflies appear throughout the narrative, as does information about them. The life lessons Luz harvests from her trip are ones we can all appreciate.