Summer of the Mariposas - Guadalupe Garcia McCall
So I'm taking a Young Adult services class in the fall and figured I might as well start reading some YA books. I know I've previously mentioned my disdain for the genre in general, but I might possibly want to be a YA librarian, which means I'll have to read YA books, so now's the time to decide whether I can stomach it on a regular basis.
Well, mixed things about this book. Odilia is the eldest of the five Garza sisters who live near the Mexican border in Texas. When they discover a corpse in their swimming hole, they decide the logical thing to do is smuggle it into Mexico and return it to the family. Things take a fantastical turn as they encounter a good mix of Mexican folklore in witches, warlocks, el chupacabras, and demon-vampire owls, an Aztec goddess, and La Llorona.
First off, in the Land of Teenage Angst and Heterosexual Love-Triangles, it's nice and refreshing to find a book about five sisters and their interdependence on each other.The focus is very much on female relationships, between the sisters, between them and their grandmother, and between them and their mother. They are also guided by La Llorona and the Aztec goddess Tonantzin, both of which are shown (at least in the book) as maternal figures. So points for that.
Unfortunately, I wasn't terribly impressed. The idea felt a little forced, in that it's hard to believe that 5 teen and preteen girls find a corpse and their immediate thought is "Let's not only touch it, but carry it all the way into Mexico!" I'm pretty sure most people, particularly young people, see a corpse in the pool they've been swimming in, and their first thought is "I need to go take a 5-hour shower." Admittedly, Odilia, the oldest at 15-is, who's point of view it's told from, has her reservations and only agrees to the quest after La Llorona appears to her and explains that this is one of those divine test type things and she'd damn well better go (perhaps not in those words exactly). So, it's billed as a modern Mexican re-telling of the Odyssey, which is a bit of false advertising because it really isn't. At all. There's two fairly blatant references to the Odyssey (a possessive witch named Cecilia, and an androgynous, blind prophet named Teresita), and that's about it. I mean sure, it's a quest, but it's hardly a re-telling.
There was also a lack of subtlety. They meet this prophet and she's all "These things will happen. Here is what to do about it." And then those exact things happen. And when a whole bunch of other mystical hoo-ha happens, we're given the explicit meaning behind everything. And sisters have this tendency to continually forget that they were told EXACTLY what was going to happen, and then act all surprised when it happened. Odilia appears to have some modicum of logic as she sort of figures things out first, but then her sister completely disregard any warnings she has. And maybe if that happened once, okay, they're all under 14, we can give them a break. But it continually happens. I mean, yeah, they're kids, but I really think that maybe after they've been violently attacked twice by some mythological creature, they might start to err on the side of caution--particularly if they were told about it in the first place.
Plot issues side, McCall does have some excellent, poetic passages. However, it occurs sporadically here while the brunt of the novel is unremarkable description and awkward teenage dialogue like
"'Oh boy, it's getting deep out there!' Velia said. 'What makes you think Mama knows anything about Tonantzin coming to save us? Because, I'll be honest, I didn't know what the heck was going on when the goddess showed up.'It's sort of hard for me to judge YA books because I'm not great at trying to frame it through my teenage-self (actually, I stopped reading YA while I was still a teenager, so I guess, pre-teen self?). I'm sure there are some teens who'll be welcome to the books expository nature. Plus, it's a quick enough read and it's a great introduction to Mexican/Aztec folklore for those who familiar with it. There is a glossary in the back of the Spanish words used throughout. And as I mentioned before, it's certainly a better alternative than the majority of the cookie-cutter paranormal/dystopian romances out there.
'Whatever,' Juanita retorted..."