Mary Alice Monroe, New York Times bestselling author of the Lowcountry Summer trilogy, once again touches hearts with her lyrical, poignant, and moving novel The Butterfly’s Daughter!
Every year, the monarch butterflies—las mariposas—fly more than two thousand miles on fragile wings to return to their winter home in Mexico. Now Luz Avila makes that same perilous journey south as she honors a vow to her beloved abuela—the grandmother who raised her—to return her ashes to her ancestral village. As Luz departs Milwaukee in a ramshackle old VW Bug, she finds her heart opened by a series of seemingly random encounters with remarkable women. In San Antonio, however, a startling revelation awaits: a reunion with a woman from her past. Together, the two cross into Mexico to await the returning monarchs in the little village Abuela called home, but they are also crossing a border that separates past from present . . . and truth from lies.
This reading group guide forThe Butterfly's Daughter includes an introduction, discussion questions, and ideas for enhancing your book club. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.
In The Butterfly’s Daughter, four women embark on a journey of self-discovery that follows the monarch butterflies’ migration to Mexico. The story begins when Luz Avila’s grandmother, the local butterfly lady, purchases an old VW bug for a road trip back home to Mexico. When she unexpectedly dies, Luz is inspired to take her Abuela’s ashes home. Following her grandmother’s beloved butterflies, Luz meets a collection of women—each on a journey of her own. But nothing can prepare Luz for what she finds along the way.
Rich with lyrical detail and insight, The Butterfly’s Daughter embraces the notion that life is more about the journey, rather than the destination.
Topics & Questions for Discussion
1. The author writes, “The annual migration of the monarch is a phenomenal story—a miracle of instinct and survival.” (p. 9) Do you think this quote also applies to Luz and her friends’ journey? Where else in The Butterfly’s Daughter are there parallels between nature and the novel’s characters?
2. Before she dies, Abuela tells Luz, “True courage comes from the heart. Tu corazan. Sometimes, it takes more courage not to jump and to stand strong.” (p. 34) Later, Luz wonders whether courage is “nothing more than taking wing and staying the course.” (p. 89) How do you define courage?
3. Abuela believed that “a monarch butterfly was the soul of the recently departed.” (p. 52) What kinds of myths or superstitions does your own family believe in? What kind of purpose do you think these beliefs serve? What did you think about Ofelia and Luz’s different interpretation of the use of Xochiquetzal in the creation myth?
4. Luz followed the butterflies to Mexico both literally and figuratively—often discovering a butterfly or some other kind of sign at the moment when she most needed help and guidance. What do you think these signs represent? Have you ever felt like you were receiving signs to aid you along your way?
5. Why do you think Abuela lied to Luz about her mother’s death? Early in the novel the author writes that Abuela “had told the story so many times over the years it was accepted as the truth—even by herself. “ (p. 9) Do you think she was right to lie, or should she have told Luz the truth from the beginning? Are lies of any kind acceptable in a family?
6. When Luz arrives in Texas and discovers that her mother, Mariposa, is still alive, she's filled with a mix of emotions—hurt, anger, joy, betrayal, panic. She’s furious with Mariposa for leaving and disappointed that her mother is not the woman she’d fantasized about. What do you think about Luz’s reaction to meeting her mother? Discuss how they ended the journey at the airport. Do you think that Luz and Mariposa will ultimately be able to have a mother/daughter relationship?
7. Margaret’s mother told her that she had to make her own luck, and this is one of the reasons she decides to join Luz on her journey. Do you agree that you make your own luck?
8. In The Butterfly’s Daughter, the author shows both Mariposa’s struggles to turn her life around and the negative effects she’s had, whether intentional or unintentional, on the people in her life. Do you think she is ultimately a sympathetic character?
9. Once she arrives in Texas, Luz sees herself in the mirror and “marveled at how the changes she felt occurring inside herself were reflected outside as well.” (p. 270) In what ways does she mature internally? How did she most change? What was the most significant lesson she learned?
10. As they travel toward Mexico, Luz and her friends make an ofrenda for Abuela with scraps that signify each woman—the baby booties Ofelia made, dried flowers, Stacie’s artwork. Discuss Mariposa’s opinion that Luz’s ofrenda was disrespectful. How do her actions reveal the breakdown of verbal and non-verbal communication between a mother and daughter? Was Luz’s fury a response to feeling disrespected, or to her feeling that she was neither seen nor heard by her mother?
11. During the course of their journey, many of the characters emerge from her own “cocoon”—Luz leaves behind her sheltered existence, Margaret breaks free of her own rigid boundaries, Ofelia ends an abusive relationship, and Mariposa lets go of her guilt. In what ways did the women help one another with their individual metamorphoses?
12. Mariposa visits her garden when she needs peace and strength, because it makes her feel “rooted to a profound source that connect[s] her to a greater whole.” (p. 283) Discuss different ways you find peace and strength when needed. Where else in The Butterfly’s Daughter do the characters turn to nature for healing?
13. In Mexico, Luz celebrates Day of the Dead with her family. The family creates an altar to honor the departed and share stories of the deceased’s life. What similarities and differences do you see between this tradition and the way that other cultures honor their dead?
14. Mariposa asks Sam, “Why does everyone always think only of the butterfly as beautiful? It’s the change itself—the metamorphosis—that is the true wonder.” (p. 257) Do you agree? Discuss the notion that true beauty lives not in the final result but in the act of transformation. How does this relate to Luz’s journey and the discoveries she makes about herself?
15. A major theme of the novel is genetic memory. For the monarch butterfly, the fourth generation of monarch butterfly acts on instinct to make the journey. What traits and similarities—physical and behavioral—were carried on in Luz’s family? In your own family?
2. Invite members of your book club to build an ofrenda, an offering to someone you’ve loved and lost. Use different items that are significant to your relationship with that person or that remind you of him or her.
3. Bring elements of a Day of the Dead celebration into your book club by making some of the foods Abuela made or incorporating some of the traditional customs. You can find recipes and suggestions at http://mexicanfood.about.com/od/history/a/dayofthedead.htm.
Mary Alice Monroe is the New York Times bestselling author of more than twenty books, including the Beach House series: The Beach House, Beach House Memories, Swimming Lessons, Beach House for Rent, and Beach House Reunion. She is a 2018 Inductee into the South Carolina Academy of Authors’ Hall of Fame, and her books have received numerous awards, including the 2008 South Carolina Center for the Book Award for Writing, the 2014 South Carolina Award for Literary Excellence, the 2015 SW Florida Author of Distinction Award, the RT Lifetime Achievement Award, the International Book Award for Green Fiction, and the 2017 Southern Book Prize for Fiction. Her bestselling novel The Beach House is also a Hallmark Hall of Fame movie. An active conservationist, she lives in the lowcountry of South Carolina. Visit her at MaryAliceMonroe.com and at Facebook.com/MaryAliceMonroe.