Anyone who knows me can vouch for my extreme (okay, maybe overboard) love for everything butterfly related. Naturally, Cecilia Galante’s The Patron Saint of Butterflies immediately caught my eye. Now, what most people don’t know is that I am fascinated by religious fanaticism, cults, and communes. When Galante’s book surfaced near the top of my large to-be-read pile, it immediately caught my eye. Once I began reading it, I couldn’t stop.
Agnes and Honey have been best friends their entire lives. Lately though, they seem to be growing apart. The girls have been raised on a religious commune known as Mount Blessing. The people of Mount Blessing are very religious and allow Emmanuel, their leader, to control all aspects of their life. Agnes loves being a Believer. She firmly believes that the traditions and strict rules at the Mount Blessing are there to make her a better person- a perfect person. But Honey hates Mount Blessing and Emmanuel. She sees the commune in a more realistic light and she knows that much of what goes on there is wrong. She is miserable, and this is causing a rift between her and Agnes. The only bright spot is the butterfly garden she’s helping to build, and the journal of butterflies that she keeps.
When Agnes’s grandmother makes an unexpected visit to the commune, she uncovers the child abuse that is going on and that the Believers are covering up. Honey, who has no parents in the commune, has always viewed Agnes’ family as her own. She opens up to Nana Pete and admits that Emmanuel has beaten her. Nana Pete is horrified and plans to help Honey. Then, Agnes’s little brother is seriously injured and Emmanuel refuses to send him to a hospital. Agnes’ grandmother and Honey plot to take all three children and escape the commune. Their journey begins an exploration of faith, friendship, religion and family for the two girls, as Agnes clings to her familiar faith while Honey desperately wants a new future.
I couldn’t put this book down. It is very timely, as I could see some similarities between Honey and Agnes’ exposure to the outside world and the fate suffered by the FLDS children in El Dorado, Texas recently. Galante tells the book in two voices, with the chapters alternating between Honey and Agnes. This allows the reader to see two sides of the story while still realizing that both girls have their own prejudices about their background and their home.
Cecilia Galante has an author’s note at the back of the book, in which she shares her own experience growing up in a religious commune in New York state. While her experiences influenced her writing, she makes it clear this is not a biographical story. However, her own experiences clearly shape the book and the story is the better for it. I loved this book and recommend it for anyone interested in faith, religions, growing up, and the current events taking place with the polygamists in Texas. A great book for book clubs! I can also see this being used in the classroom because it would spark some great discussions!