"I advise you to tell no one about the gift unless you trust them implicitly."
Ever since Solimar was a little girl, she has gone to the ouamel forest bordering her kingdom to observe the monarch butterflies during their migration, but always from a safe distance. Now, on the brink of her quinceañera and her official coronation, Solimar crosses the dangerous creek to sit among the butterflies. There, a mysterious event gives her a gift and a burden--the responsibility to protect the young and weak butterflies with her magical rebozo, or silk shawl.
Solimar is committed to fulfilling her role, and has a plan that might have worked. But when her father, the king, and her brother, the prince, leave on an expedition, a neighboring king overthrows the kingdom and holds everyone left in the village hostage. It takes all of Solimar's courage to escape and then embark on a dangerous journey to save her kingdom, but she's not alone. Her pet bird, Lázaro, the butterflies she protects, and a magical rag doll, Zarita, are with her. Then, at a precarious moment, she meets a river boy who knows the rapids.
Even with help, can Solimar save her family, the kingdom, and the future of the monarchs from a greedy king?
Middle-grade fans of Pam Muñoz Ryan’s Esperanza Rising, will find a new Mexican heroine to love in Solimar and a fresh, magical story!---from the publisher
272 pages 978-1484728352 Ages 8-12
Keywords: fantasy and magic, princess, butterflies, adventure, journey, kings, family, courage, Latina and Latino, diversity, diverse books, Mexico, 8 year old, 9 year old, 10 year old, 11 year old, 12 year old, environment, conservation
Solimar is approaching fifteen, and when she has her Quinceañera, she'll officially be a princess of San Gregorio. Her brother, known as Campeón, is the reluctant heir apparent, which is unfair, but the way Solimar's world works. Her father, King Sebastian, and her mother, Queen Rosalinda, have some problems; King Aveno is trying to buy some of their land. Unfortunately, it is the land that monarch butterflies visit every year, and the kingdom is known far and wide for them. When the monarchs are due to return, Solimar travels into the oyamel forest (which has a cool, moist environment) to see the monarchs. She crosses the river to get a better look even though it is forbidden, and is rewarded by having the butterflies settle on her.
This, however, has a strange effect; afterwards, her rebozo (a scarflike shawl) glistens and seems to grant Solimar the power to see into the near future if she wears it in the sun. She keeps this ability secret from most people, but tells her abuela. Her abuela takes her to the local "witch" with whom she studied, Doña Flora, who tells her the rebozo now is helping the weaker monarchs to survive, and she must be their steward.
When her father and brother are due to take goods to the big market in Puerto Rivera, her brother confides in her that he intends to run away and join the crew of a ship, leaving the possibility of ruling in her lap. He begs her to keep this a secret, and she's willing to... until King Aveno takes advantage of her father's absence and descends upon the palace, taking her mother and other residents of the castle hostage.
Luckily, Solimar isn't in the room, but hears the commotion, and uses a secret passage to escape and take consel with Doña Flora. She is advised to go to Puerto Rivera to get her father and brother, and to travel down the Rio Diablo to make good time. Luckily, she meets Berto, who studies the river and travels it, and he agrees to help her. With the additional help of her pet bird, Lazaro, and an enchanted doll, Zarita, Solimar undertakes the difficult journey to get help to save her kingdom. Will she be able to get help in time to save not only her family, but the butterflies?
Strengths: Solimar was a very engaging character who bristled a bit at her upbringing but in general was up for embracing any adventure that came her way, which I appreciated. Her family, while fairly traditional, was also open to change and didn't try to change her too much, although they did want her to make more of an effort to be a princess, such as not wearing her boots with her Quinceañera dress. It was a nice change to not have them be mean about it!
The magic and herbal healing was a nice touch, and I would gladly read a whole book about a young abuela being trained by Doña Flora! Berto was very helpful, and the two got along well on their adventure. This was a fast paced, pleasant read, and I loved the inclusion of information about the importance of monarch butterflies and what can be done to save them. (I have a bee and butterfly garden in my yard, so it's always good to see conservation efforts promoted in literature.)
Weaknesses: There was nothing really fresh and new about Solimar's adventure. I did like this much more than this author's Echo, and this would be a great choice for fans of Sarah Beth Durst's work.
What I really think: This had an old school, fantasy adventure feel to it, similar to Banks' The Farthest Away Mountain, Levine's The Two Princesses of Bamarre, or Tamora Pierce's work, but with a Mexican setting and cultural connections. There was a bit more princess power and deconstruction of gender norms, which actually, gave this a strong John Flanagan Royal Ranger vibe. If this remains a stand alone, I might buy it, but I already have so many fantasy series, and relatively few readers for them.