Sunday, November 29, 2009

The Patron Saint of Butterflies by Cecilia Galante

Agnes and Honey have been best friends their whole lives. Born just a few weeks apart, they have shared a crib and a room for the first seven years of their lives and have been inseparable forever. They have grown up in a religious commune, where their lives are a bit different from the outside world. They wear blue robes and attend church services every day. When they do something wrong, they aren't punished by their parents, but by their religious leader Emmanuel and second in command Victoria.
Agnes is very firm in her belief. She is doing whatever it takes to live a spiritual life- fasting, giving up what she is good at and punishing herself when she is weak. Honey however rejects everything about the spiritual life Emmanuel promises. She is happy living with Winky- a man who took her in because her mother ran off when Honey was just 2 years old. When she is caught breaking one of the rules, she is sent to the Regulation Room to be punished by Emmanuel. When the book starts, Honey is dealing with the pain of this punishment.
After this punishment, Agnes' Grandmother- Nana Pete comes for a surprise visit. While there, she learns of this Regulation Room and fears for the children's safety. Nana Pete decides to take the children from the commune for their own safety. While Honey is thrilled to finally escape, Agnes is fearful to live in a world that is not as devoted as she is. All she wants is to return to the commune.
I don't usually like reading religious stories, but in this one, while religion plays a strong role, the story between the two friends is so much more important. The battle between trying to do what you have been told and believing in what is right is huge. The characters of Honey, Agnes and Nana Pete are so real and believable.
After reading the author's biography and learning that she grew up in a commune, it is obvious that she writes from experience and it makes the confusion that Agnes felt so much more understandable. This is a great read- but kids reading it might need to talk about some of the issues that are dealt with, they may not have the knowledge of religious communes to understand the beginning setting of the story.

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