Life has taken a turn for the worse for the five Garza sisters: a year ago their free-wheeling father left the family and hasn’t been heard from since; Mama, who has never held a job, is suddenly working long hours as a waitress to keep food on the table; Odelia, the eldest sister, has been saddled with the responsibility of supervising her 4 squabbling younger siblings, and now, just as they are cooling off in their own private Rio Grande swimming hole on the wrong side of the border fence, a dead body floats into their midst.
Who was this man? A quick search produces a drivers license and a thick wad of money in a plastic bag stuffed into his boot. Thus begins the girls' misguided journey to return the body to his family in Mexico, without bothering to notify authorities. They prop him into their father's abandoned and barely running car, dab makeup on him to fool the border guards, elude their mother while she is at work, and take off for Mexico with only a drivers' permit and a change of clothes each. Their vague plans include visiting their paternal grandmother as well, who lives somewhere not far from the dead man's village, and whom they have not seen for years.
Just before they leave, however, Odelia has a mystical encounter with a ghostly image – La Llorano – a woman from ancient legend who lost her children to the river and mourns their death eternally. She arms Odelia with a magic earring and advice for their journey, which will become much, much more than simply returning a corpse to his family. In a brilliant nod to Homer's Odyssey, Garcia McCall takes the reader on a quest through a mash-up of Atzec and Greek mythology, with the five hermanacitas taking on the role of Odysseus and his fellow seamen.
Encounters with witches, warlocks, monsters, but also wise elders and mystical beings will test the girls' courage, loyalty, wit, and selflessness. Throughout it all the mariposas, or butterflies, are an ever-present phenomenon among the sisters. In Atzec culture, the mariposas represent the souls of the departed who return each year to offer reassurance that all is well in the afterlife. Indeed, it seems the ancestors are guiding the sisters through their often dangerous journey. Well, the magic earring comes in handy, too.
What could have become a teenage version of “Weekend at Bernie's” evolves into a wondrous immersion into a mystical world and an emergence into the real world, better equipped to deal with life's sometimes overwhelming problems. These five sisters will share an unbreakable bond as a result of their journey. A most satisfying read that will leave you in a state of quiet reflection!
The story is peppered with Spanish terms, but a glossary in the back offers clear definitions.
Recommended by: Jane C. Behrens, Teacher Librarian, Iowa USA