“If you see the Butterfly, somebody you know will die. Or has already died. My dad wasn’t clear. He just said if the Butterfly lands on something of yours, you should expect Death to come knocking at your door.”
Whew! That opening immediately sent shivers down my spine when I first sat down to read My Fate According to the Butterfly by Gail D. Villanueva. Set in the Philippines, Villanueva brings to the forefront the significance of superstitions in the culture. Superstitions are deeply rooted and can greatly impact actions and reactions to situations in life. In this middle school contemporary novel, Villanueva embeds the superstition of the large black butterfly.
This chapter book is a tale of ten-year-old Sab (Sabrina) and her quest to reunite her broken family for her upcoming eleventh birthday. Her older sister, Ate Nadine, has not spoken to her father in years and Sab does not know why. Her motivation to both discover and mend the roots of the family rift is heightened when she sees the giant black butterfly, which her father has taught her to be a death omen. Seeing it, she knows she has limited time to act upon her only wish to celebrate her birthday at her Lola’s resort with all of her family there.
Throughout the story, we follow Sab’s journey to uncover more about her Ate Nadine and why she dislikes her father so much. We watch each layer of truth slowly unfold and the emotional impact on each member of the family.
Along the way, we also get a taste of the culture of the Philippines, family dynamics, societal issues, and also the effects of our behaviors and mistakes on our family’s relationships.
My Favorite Quotes:
There were several quotes in the book that caught my attention and provided opportunities for reflection. Here are some I would like to share with you:
I think that although she is describing a believed “death omen” the description is just so captivating and mysterious — as black as a “starless night sky” and “beautiful and sinister at the same time.”
I love this quote because it is a good life lesson — to not just sit around waiting for death. To enjoy each day of your life and take action to enjoy your life the best way possible. Although Sab sees the black butterfly, her best friend, Pepper, encourages her to not waste time feeling bad for herself, but to change her mentality to spend her supposed “last days” fulfilling her wishes.
This statement displays the contrast between Filipinos and those who were raised in the U.S. Pepper, Sab’s friend, grew up in the U.S., where superstitions are not as strongly immersed in the culture. Pepper doesn’t fully understand the level of seriousness Sab feels from the superstition of the black butterfly. It reminds me of how my Titas and Titos from the Philippines bring up many more superstitions in the conversation than my family who was born and raised here in the U.S. I always wondered why they would see or hear certain things happening in the Philippines, but not here in the U.S. So, reading this part of the book was very relatable to my own relatives and their beliefs.
I appreciate how Gail Villanueva brings in real societal beliefs regarding skin color and definitions of “beauty.” It is a tough pill to swallow and a “truth” that is hard to admit, but to this day, there are people who still believe that — “white is beautiful, brown is not.” There are many who strongly disagree. But there still remains the belief in this throughout our populations and still communicated (whether overtly or subconsciously).
Age Appropriateness & Topics
My Fate According to the Butterfly is intended for ages 8 through 12 (grades 3 through 7). Although this is the target age range, it is recommended to read it prior to having your child or student read it to be fully prepared and comfortable with the discussed topics in the book. It is an honest storyline, bringing up real-life issues, which I really appreciate. There are several topics we tend to hide from our children due to fear or uncomfortableness, but it is good to bring those real topics to the forefront through age-appropriate conversations. The story shows a torn family due to a “mysterious” reason which Sab later uncovers.
The storyline includes relationship dynamics such as a separated marriage, a homosexual relationship, and brings up substance abuse.
While it does include these topics, Gail Villanueva weaves them in very respectfully while maintaining the depth of emotions that can be involved. It brings up true to life issues between family. It teaches valuable lessons about communication, appreciation for family, living your life without regrets, the importance of having faith in others, and the process of forgiveness.
There are some challenging truths and lots of big feelings for Sab and her Ate Nadine. The author takes the reader through the emotional struggle of the characters and brings it to a beautiful resolve in the end. You will have to read it to find out how it all comes together.
My Fate According to the Butterfly will be launching on July 30, 2019! Check out the book’s website to learn more about it and how to pre-order/purchase it.
Interview with the Author:
I wanted to learn more about the author and her inspiration behind the book, so I am thrilled to have had the opportunity to ask Gail Villanueva a few questions to share with you:
Q: When did you realize you wanted to be an author?
A: I was writing short stories and making comic strips the moment I learned to read at age seven. I had a hard time learning how to. With my grandmother’s help, I eventually learned how to associate words with images.
But it was when I read To Kill A Mockingbird in fifth grade that I decided I wanted to become an author. I reached the end of the book with this question: Why did it have to be a white girl who tells the story of a black man? Like, couldn’t a black author tell their own story?
It was at that moment I resolved to one day write a book with a Filipino main character. A Filipino book by a Filipino writer. My book may never become a classic like Harper Lee’s (anyone can dream though haha), but I would write about Filipinos because I’m Filipino.
Q: What are your favorite genres to read? What are your favorite genres to write?
A: I read just about anything middle grade—except for horror. I scare easily, so reading horror books will give me nightmares for days. I really love writing real-life stories with a touch of magic in present-day settings and have dabbled with contemporary and historical fantasy.
Q: What inspired you to write My Fate According to the Butterfly?
A: I wrote My Fate According to the Butterfly when I was receiving rejection upon rejection for my first (and currently-shelved) book. It was inspired by my relationship with my own younger sister, Joyce. She’s very like Sab in many ways.
Q: Do you relate to any of the characters in My Fate According to the Butterfly?
A: I relate to Nadine, being an older sister myself. I was also part of my school paper in college. But I’m similar to Pepper the most. She may be a white American, but her personality is kind of like mine. I love strategizing, coming up with solutions to problems, and playing puzzle games. I don’t like kwek-kwek as much as Pepper does, but I do have the tendency to become a bit uncomfortable when family and friends go all feel-y on me.
Q: What do you hope your readers will take away from My Fate According to the Butterfly?
A: I wrote My Fate According to the Butterfly with Filipino representation in mind. I grew up not seeing myself in the books I read and I wanted to change that. But I would love for this book to become a mirror to anyone (Filipino or not) who needed one. Because seeing yourself represented is very empowering. It tells you, the reader, that you can be anything you want to be. At the same time, I would love for my book to become a window to our culture and encourage empathy in kids—especially privileged kids—since I strongly believe that empathy helps us become better human beings.
Gail D. Villanueva is a Filipino author born and based in the Philippines. She’s also a web designer, an entrepreneur, and a graphic artist. She loves pineapple pizza, seafood, and chocolate, but not in a single dish together (eww). Gail and her husband live in the outskirts of Manila with their dogs, ducks, turtles, cats, and one friendly but lonesome chicken. Her debut novel, My Fate According to the Butterfly, is coming from Scholastic Press on July 30, 2019
Website — https://butterflynovel.com
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