I’ve had an *interesting* week, to say the least. So when I opened a packed from Random House and saw a book with monarch butterflies on the cover, it was like it was meant to be. The book had not even been on my radar, but I settled in to read it.
Told in a series of vignettes, To Come and Go Like Magic is the story of twelve-year-old Chili Sue Mahoney. Growing up in 1970’s Kentucky in Appalachia country, Chili dreams of growing up and getting out. Her family and friends can’t understand why she would want to leave home but Chili can’t understand why they won’t let her. But when Miss Matlock is brought in as the new 7th grade substitute teacher, Chili and her friend Willie Bright are both excited. Miss Matlock has traveled around the globe. Town gossips can’t understand she’s come back to the town she grew up in after all this time. Both children are forbidden to befriend her but eagerly start spending time at her house, despite the rumors. As the three spend time together, Chili learns about the world outside Appalachia- rain forests, jungles, foreign lands. But Miss Matlock also teaches her that there’s more to Mercy Hill, Kentucky than Chili gives it credit for: there is beauty all over Mercy Hill, in the most unexpected places.
The vignette style serves this book well. The story flows well without seeming disjointed. At the same time, the reader is able to move through time with Chili without getting bogged down in mundane details. The vignettes reminded me a lot of The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros. Both focus on a different culture and share the stories through small stories. While Appalachia isn’t a different “culture” for some, it is drastically different from the environment of my students.
There was only one point that bugged me in the story, and most likely no one else will notice. The time period is given as 1970’s Kentucky. However, Miss Matlock tells Chili about the monarch butterfly migration to Mexico. It wasn’t until 1976 that Dr. Fred Urquhart published his findings of the monarch migration in National Geographic. I guess the story could take place in the late 1970’s, but that small detail nagged at me throughout the book. Most people didn’t know about the migration to Mexico until well after the 1970’s and the actual location wasn’t shared by Dr. Urquhart until many years later.
Regardless of the monarch connection (a very small one), this was a great story and one I look forward to recommending to my students.
*Review copy courtesy of publisher