Monarca, by Leopoldo Gout & Eva Aridjis
Oh, my, but I’m desperate for spring! This winter has not been the hardest I’ve ever experienced, but it’s been long and hard enough and I just want it to be over. So when I was cleaning up the other day and came across my copy or Monarca, an almost visceral need to sit down, right that moment, and escape into its pages gripped me.
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 all ages can enjoy, even if some 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 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 art that adorns every page gives the characters and settings such additional depth, 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 first read it on one glorious spring afternoon while sitting on my porch enjoying the smell of lilacs that wafted along the lilting breeze. I’m still planning to bolster the random milkweed plants that have appeared in my yard over the past few years, and to talk to my neighbors about building a “butterfly pathway” along our lots. So c’mon, spring! Let’s get his thing done! I’m itching to make Inès proud, and welcome the butterflies again.
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