Wednesday, September 17, 2008
The Patron Saint of Butterflies-- Cecilia Galante
I'm not sure why, but I kind of have a fascination with religious cults... they are interesting to me for some reason, and this is why I picked up an ARC for The Patron Saint of Butterflies while at ALA this summer.
This novel is told from two perspectives: Agnes and her cousin Honey. Agnes truly believes that if she is good enough, she will be a saint one day. She performs horrifying acts of self-torture to punish herself for sins like running, going outside on a holy day, and little white lies. She totally believes the message of the cult leader, Emmanuel, and respects him more than anyone but God. Honey however, has been viciously abused by the leaders of their cult and dreams of escaping one day. She was abandoned by her mother when she was a baby, and knows no other life than Mount Blessing. One day something terrible happens, and Honey and Agnes find themselves at one of life's crossroads: escape to the secular world rift with sin and temptation, or stay at Mount Blessing and endure the punishments doled out by Emmanuel.
Together, their story is rich and full of different perspectives. The author, Cecilia Galante, grew up in a religious cult similar to Mount Blessing, where Agnes and Honey live. When I read that bit about the author, I wasn't surprised, because she treats the cult context with transparent honesty and respect, but definitely not reverence. It bothers me when authors demonize an institution totally, because in real life, there is almost always some good and some bad in everything... nothing is 100% pure or 100% evil. I liked that Galante alluded to some of the positive aspects of communal living as well.
I would recommend this book to girls (boys might like it too, but the book is notably female character driven) who like duel narratives, stories about religious experience, or tales of overcoming obstacles. It is definitely clean, realistic fiction, but people with strong conservative religious backgrounds /may take offense to the negative portrayal of some aspects of Mount Blessing.