Upon discovering this room, Agnes’s skeptical grandmother resolves to take Honey and Agnes out of the commune at her first opportunity, but an accident ending in near-severed fingers and a misguided “miracle,” makes escape urgent and imperative. Honey, Agnes, and the latter’s younger brother are pulled into their grandmother’s car and driven as far from the place as possible, beginning a journey of self-discovery and faith that lasts the entire book.
As the story weaves on, one discovers the day-to-day horrors that consume the lives of the commune’s patrons. Girls starving themselves as they fast for sainthood; tying strings around their waists so tight it is all they can do to keep breathing; hurting, hating themselves for being flawed—always striving for an unattainable perfection, in the name of assimilating to the near-fictional saints of a storybook.
This book was quite realistic, aided most likely by the fact that the author herself had grown up in a religious commune not unlike Mount Blessing. It examines the role of parents—how can they stand by when their children are being beaten, even if they accept that it is in the name of religion? It asks if a child can find it in herself to speak up, even if it means getting loved ones in trouble. It looks at the flaws of organized religion—comparing it to an abstract spirituality or belief in God; questioning if the former is always as holy as it claims. It ponders if one can shed the skin of a twisted childhood, drop the warped habits and viewpoints learned, and heal. But most of all, Patron Saint of Butterflies explores the theme of friendship: how two girls with utterly different outlooks on life share the capacity to heal together and be equals.
I really liked this book. Upon finishing it, I was full of praise, and in the days after I found myself bringing it up again and again. While it examines complex themes and dives into some heavy material, the characters are teenage girls and the storyline is straightforward—making it a simple book to read, but one that forces the reader to confront challenging concepts once the story is over.
I give Patron Saint of Butterflies an evil four out of five daggers.