Book Spotlight: Summer of the Mariposas

It was tough choosing which of my Tu Books fall titles to share with you this week, as they’re both awesome, and they’re both diverse titles that I want all the world to know about. I had to draw straws, in the end, and Summer of the Mariposas won. This time.

Guadalupe Garcia McCall is known best for her debut novel in verse, Under the Mesquite, which was a finalist for a Morris Award—given for a debut novel—and which won the Pura Belpre Award. McCall carries that same poetic voice to prose in her second novel, a retelling of The Odyssey starring five sisters. I sometimes like to call it a Mexican American Weekend at Bernie’s meets Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants via The Odyssey. Let me tell you why.

imageWhen Odilia and her four sisters discover a dead man floating in their swimming hole on the Texas side of the Rio Grande, their first instinct is to report the dead body to the authorities. But when one of the sisters, Juanita, finds a family photo in the dead man’s wallet, their path is clinched—he was a father with two small children at home. They decide they will return the dead man to his family in Mexico, despite Odilia’s opposition to this plan. Eventually Odilia is overruled and she joins them on the urging of the ghostly legend La Llorona, who tells Odilia that this quest is something the five sisters must undertake. La Llorona will be their guide. They pile into their father’s old car and set off on an adventure to Mexico.

While returning the dead man to his family doesn’t come without its disappointments, the most challenging portion of their trip comes on their attempt to return home to their mother, when they must defeat a witch, a nagual (warlock), a chupacabras, and a coven of lechuzas while navigating the desert of northern Mexico on foot. Can the Cinco Hermanitas truly stay “together forever, no matter what” through these challenges? Can they face the ultimate real-world challenge once they make it home, where La Llorona and other magical means can no longer assist them?

It’s beautifully written magical realism, a story of sisterly love (and sisterly arguments) and maternal connectedness, all wrapped up in an awesome plot with lots of magic and adventure. I didn’t edit Guadalupe’s first book, which was realistic and published through our other imprint. (I focus on fantasy, science fiction, and mystery at Tu Books.) So I was very excited to get the chance to work with her on her first fantasy. I love fairy tale retellings, but this was something new, a retelling of one of the oldest stories. The Odyssey is the ultimate hero’s journey. I’ve always wondered what a feminine version of Joseph Campbell’s hero’s tale might look like. What similarities and differences might come into play when the story passes the Bechdel Test? (Well, at least the spirit of it–the man in question in several of their conversations is a dead body; but for many scenes it’s five girls discussing how to get home to their mother, or discussing with other women how to succeed on their journey.)

It’s also a sister story. How many stories do we really have in YA that focus on a sibling relationship without the complications of romance dividing the sisters’ attention? And it plays with ancient Mexican and Aztec stories–the story of La Llorona, which goes back to the time of Cortez’s conquest, the story of la Virgen de la cueva and the goddess Tonantzin, the way that Aztec and Spaniard folklore intertwined to become uniquely Mexican. Not to mention that Weekend at Bernie’s twist. To top it all off, it was written by a teacher who’s taught the original tale to the target audience. She knows this story inside and out. I’m sure there are references she planted in there that I didn’t even catch–that’s how well she knows it. How could I resist?

And wow, am I glad I didn’t resist.

It comes out on October 2, 2012, so keep an eye out for it! (And if you want to check out the title that lost the coin toss, here it is. An amazing lineup of authors writing dystopian tales starring characters of color.)

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