Summer of the Mariposas

Book review by
Sandie Angulo Chen, Common Sense Media
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Fantastical quest explores sisterhood and Mexican legends.

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The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Readers will learn many Spanish words and familiarize themselves with Mexican folklore and popular legends such as El Chupacabras, La Llorona, the Virgin of Guadalupe, and the bingo-like game of Loteria. The celebration of a quinceañera is explained as well. The author even includes a glossary to help readers who aren't versed in Mexican/Spanish colloquialisms or stories.

Positive Messages

The book promotes the bond of sisterhood, the importance of honoring your mother, and the virtues of compassion, mercy, forgiveness, and generosity -- especially during dire circumstances.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Odilia is a caring big sister, who despite getting annoyed with her little sisters, tries to do what is best for them. Juanita is smart and compassionate, believing it's their duty to return the dead body to its family. All five sisters prove themselves to be brave in the face of considerable danger.


The girls encounter the dead body of a man who drowned in the Rio Grande and resolve to drive his corpse to Mexico. During the sisters' attempt to return home, they come face to face with various dangerous creatures, such as the Chupacabras that bites the youngest sister and the "siren" who sedates the girls with her sweets and hopes to keep them forever and then summons a brood of owls to pursue them. The worst episodes are when a shapeshifting dark creature boils a pot and plans to eat them but then ends up falling in it himself, and when they blind the Chupacabra.


There are no teen romances in store for the older girls, but there are references to their father's infidelity, and his "seductress" shows up with him at one point. The girls' mother flirts with an FBI agent.


Mild almost-cursing, such as saying "helicopter" instead of "hell." The girls hurl insults like "know it all," "crazy," "fat little thief," "stupid," and more at one another and strangers.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Summer of the Mariposas is the second book by award-winning author Guadalupe Garcia McCall. The novel is a loose adaptation of Homer's Odyssey featuring five Mexican-American sisters, ages 10 to 15, on an epic quest. The girls face danger several times, just like Odysseus, and must vanquish each potential threat to return home to their mother in Texas. Although there is some mild violence, there is no strong language or sex, so it's an educational and entertaining choice for mature middle-grade readers, not just young-adult fans. Readers will learn a great deal about Mexican folklore and legends, as well as many Spanish words and terms. Ultimately, Summer of the Mariposas promotes the bond of sisterhood and the love between mother and daughters. In June 2018, publisher Lee & Low released an edition in Spanish. 

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What's the story?

The five Garza sisters (cinco hermanitas) are enjoying an otherwise unremarkable summer in the border town of Eagle Pass, TX, when they come across a dead body floating in the Rio Grande. After second-oldest Juanita discovers his family photo and license, she convinces her younger sisters -- twins Velia and Delia and baby sis Pita -- to attempt to return the body to his address in Mexico. Oldest sister Odilia, 15, thinks the idea is crazy but when she sees a vision of the mythical La Llorona (the Weeping Woman) insisting they go, she relents. With magical earrings to protect them and La Llorona to guide them, the Garzas head across the border to deliver the man, but their return home to their mother turns into an Odyssey-like journey filled with perilous obstacles.

Is it any good?

McCall obviously writes what she knows; the firsthand knowledge of being raised Mexican and American (with so many sisters!) comes through in her achingly realistic story. Not only did she grow up in the same town as her characters, but she also has five younger sisters to whom she dedicated the book. Although the sisters make a lot of decisions that will make adult readers cringe in horror, it makes perfect sense that alternately naive and know-it-allish preteens and adolescents would make a lot of mistakes on a fantastical journey toward self-discovery and reconciliation with their mother.

The author excels at depicting the love between mothers and children. Whether it's the cancer-stricken Mami in Under the Mesquite or the downtrodden and jilted Mamá (or the eternally grieving La Llorona) in Summer of Mariposas, Garcia McCall beautifully describes the unconditional and fierce way a mother cares for her hijitas. It's hard to find truly multicultural literature for tweens and teens, so it's a relief to know authors like Garcia McCall make it a priority to explore the way bilingual kids navigate both cultures.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the legends and folklore discussed in the book. Is it necessary to be familiar with Mexican culture to understand the story? What did you learn about Mexican history and beliefs?

  • How does the author transform usually scary figures, like La Llorona or the Chupacabras, into misunderstood creatures who are actually sadder than they are frightening?

  • How do the elements from the Loteria game (like the names of each chapter) foreshadow plot developments or provide insight about the characters?

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love coming-of-age and family stories

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