Author’s note: This review discusses Summer of the Mariposas by Guadalupe Garcia McCall, and includes spoilers.
You know those “What I did on my summer vacation” essays that we had to write during the first few days of each new elementary school year? The ones where you tried to make camping in the backyard or taking a family trip sound like the most exciting thing ever? Well, the Garza girls would have everyone else’s stories beat hands-down, even if they did decide to leave out all the supernatural elements of their summer like their Abuelita Remedios suggested.
Guadalupe Garcia McCall’s Summer of the Mariposas tells the story of the five Garza sisters, Odilia, Juanita, Velia, Delia, and Pita. They live in Texas with their mother, who works constantly in a diner to pay the bills and more often than not leaves them to their own devices. The girls’ father left nearly a year ago, and they haven’t heard from him since. They’re unsure if he’s even alive, and whether or not he’ll ever come back to see them.
One summer day, the girls discover a dead body floating in their swimming hole, a small section of the Rio Grande in Texas right near the Mexican border. After a lot of arguing about the right actions to take, they eventually decide to smuggle the body across the border into Mexico to return the man to the family he has a worn photo of in his wallet. They also combine this with going to visit their paternal grandmother, Abuelita Remedios, who they haven’t seen since they were young girls.
This seems like a pretty big goal to accomplish in and of itself, but the Garza sisters drop the man off in the first quarter of the story, leaving them to continue on their adventure full of bloodthirsty owls, one-eyed demons, and helpful ghosts handing out magical earrings.
When they’re preparing to bring the body back to Mexico, Odilia is visited by the spirit of La Llorona, a woman who purportedly drowned her own children and then killed herself. Odilia is terrified at first, and understandably so, but La Llorona tells the eldest Garza sister that the rumors about her are false and that she didn’t actually kill her children. She gives Odilia an earring and tells her that she can use it five times to protect her and her sisters during their journey.
Almost two weeks later the sisters return from their adventure to Mexico, and they’re greeted not only by their mother, but also their estranged father—as well as the woman he was having an affair with and their two daughters. He insisted that Mama was to be kicked out of the house so that he, his new girlfriend, their daughters, and the sisters would all live in the house together, which…I can’t even. I literally cannot. I was so upset for Odilia and her sisters during this moment that I realized just how well written this book was.
The character development that the Garza girls show throughout the book is insane, but in a good way. The sisters all grow up very quickly, and McCall does a really great job of realistically illustrating this. When the girls discover the dead body floating in their swimming hole, their biggest worry is whether or not them going to the police will make them unable to go swimming in the future (and, if they do tell the police, which outfits to wear for their interviews on TV). Over the course of their adventure, the girls deal with so many unexpected people and things that their priorities shift and their main focus is each other as well as their family, and making sure that everyone stays safe. Essentially, they go from being nervous that their favorite swimming hole would be taken away from them to having to worry about dead bodies, witches who drug them with candy and cakes that sound ridiculously good, warlocks, and evil dudes disguised as donkeys.
Not exactly things that regular teenage girls have to consider, but I think it’s safe to say the Garza sisters do a pretty solid job of handling it.
Another aspect of McCall’s story that I really dug was the fact that this group of girls—the oldest being fifteen—managed to do things that nobody else before them could. The chupacabras was a terror that nobody had managed to conquer in any way, but after he attacked Pita, Odilia, Juanita, Velia, and Delia jumped into action and blinded him, ensuring that he would never be able to hurt anybody again. When they told their Abuelita Remedios about this, her two male assistants were thoroughly impressed and relieved—there was no questioning the girls’ story, no “Oh, well that’s impossible because you’re girls” or anything like that.
Overall, Summer of the Mariposas is an enthralling read—the general outline of The Odyssey that the novel follows, as well as all the different aspects of Hispanic culture, are interwoven really well into the story. It’s ridiculously easy to become invested in the story and its characters, and by the end of the book, readers will be wanting sisters as close as the Garza girls for themselves, because as Odilia and her sisters make clear throughout the book, they’re cinco hermanitas, together forever, no matter what.
4 out of 5 stars
Allison Racicot is the Audiobook Reviewer at Girls in Capes. She’s a recent graduate of Emerson College in Boston, and has a degree in Writing, Literature, and Publishing. She spends too much time listening to podcasts and getting overly attached to fictional characters.