Monarca, by Leopoldo Gout & Eva Aridjis
Monarca is, simply put, a beautiful book. Beautifully rendered, beautifully spoken, unfolding gracefully and yet with an urgency and insight that keeps the reader fully vested in the developing story. Geared at the younger teen crowd, this is a book that can be enjoyed by all ages, even if some of the actions may be too intense for the younger set.
Monarca follows Inès, a 14-year-old Mexican-American girl relating the story of her transformation into a monarch butterfly a year earlier. This is her family’s legacy, one that occurs every fourth generation, reuniting a child with the butterflies as they make their journey from Canada and northern America to their winter resting spot at the butterfly sanctuary in Michoacán, Mexico, which is also Inès’ ancestral home.
The book equates Inès’ experience with the life cycle of a butterfly – egg, larva, pupa, butterfly – and enticingly teaches the reader to view our world from a different perspective. There are joys of being a butterfly, and dangers, too, both natural and especially from humans and their effects on the
environment. The ending of the book even includes an epic battle that sadly enough is oh, so believable and timely.
And the illustrations! Oh, my, they are amazing. Colorful, expressive, dreamy, and evocative. Even though this book may not qualify as a graphic novel, it certainly feels like one, in that the characters and settings are given such additional depth by the art that adorns every page, adding to the magical realism that permeates the story.
And yes, Monarca carries its environmental heart on its sleeve. It’s not just about the perils of the journey but the perils that affect the butterfly population, through loss of natural habitat, the use of pesticides, and the greed that surrounds commercial agriculture. But while that message is dire, there is also hope, and Inès returns from her journey energized, and with a new purpose – a purpose that the reader is invited to join with.
It doesn’t take long to read Monarca – I read it in one glorious spring afternoon while sitting on my porch enjoying the smell of lilacs that wafted along the lilting breeze. But I find myself thinking of it often, and wondering how best to bolster the random milkweed plants that have started to appear in my yard. Maybe I’ll even talk to my neighbors about building a “butterfly pathway” along our lots. So while the book may not have taken long to read, its effects most likely are going to linger a long time – and that’s a good thing. A triumph – in more ways than one.