Thursday, April 29, 2010

The Patron Saint of Butterflies

The Patron Saint of Butterflies by Cecilia Galante
Read: 3/18/10-3/22/10
LibraryThing tags, if I had put this on LibraryThing: YA, Cults, Dysfunction, Friendship, Sonderbook (click here for Sondy's review)

I was surprised by how much I related to these characters, since I wasn't raised in a religious commune like they (and the author) were. The two characters (the book alternates their first-person perspective chapters), Agnes and Honey, aren't even very much alike, although they're best friends. But just as the author put different pieces of herself into the two of them, I related to different aspects of both girls.

Agnes wants to be a saint, and the copy of The Saints' Way that the cult leader gave her on her twelfth birthday is her most cherished possession. She fasts (at twelve years old, remember) and imposes the penances of her favorite saints on herself for her sins. I remember when I tried so hard to be good and felt that I was continually failing (mostly for not following my mom's "If you can't say anything nice..." rule, and because I cared who "started it"), although fortunately I didn't live in an environment that encouraged me to punish myself so severely for my failures. I shudder to think what would have happened if I'd had the same influences as Agnes had. I felt sad for Agnes, that she didn't have anyone to separate the truth from the lies for her, to show her where the good had been twisted and broken, so that she would still follow the good after uncovering the lies. But I'm getting ahead of myself, and of course I am not going to tell you how it all ends.

Then there's Honey, the commune's only orphan. Well, her parents aren't actually dead, but her mother abandoned her and she knows nothing of her father. Honey is far more rebellious than Agnes, and it frustrates Agnes to no end that her relationship with Honey seems to force her into sinning -- lying to protect Honey, and so on. Honey is both outsider and insider -- cut off from the rest of the community enough to be a bit more sane and have a more objective view of things, but it's still where she was raised, and she can more or less understand and interpret Agnes and the rest of them to the outside world, as much as that's possible. Between my own personality strength of empathy, the oddities of my own family, and growing up in the "Christian culture," (which, due to a semi-widespread Christian attitude [maybe from fundamentalism] that's more concerned with purity and separation than with loving people and impacting culture, can be a little odd and different even at times when it's being healthy, not weird and cultish), I can definitely understand the feelings of being caught between worlds and understanding both.

The quotation at the front of the book nicely sums up the feel of the story: "In a room where people unanimously maintain a conspiracy of silence, one word of truth sounds like a pistol shot." -Czeslaw Milosz

It's about truth and secrets, and changes which threaten to tear people and friendships apart from the inside out. Fun stuff. I recommend it, and am curious what my sisters would think of it. I know Sondy's read it, any of the rest of you?  Want to borrow my copy?

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