A few weeks ago, we discussed our thoughts prior to reading.
Part 1 - The Departure
Due to life getting in the way, it took a little while before we could resume our discussion. Now the Batty About Books duo is back to chat about the first chunk of this lovely book.
As usual, my thoughts are in purple with Kathy (aka The Brain Lair) in blue. My ponderings reside here, but don't miss checking out the other side of the conversation at The Brain Lair.
Wow - what an impressive beginning! I have so many thoughts swirling around my head that I’m going to have to pick and choose or this post will be massive.
Connections to Greek Mythology
I’m torn about when to use this book with students. Do I do it after they have some Greek mythology background? I think the story will hold up well even if they miss these references, but students who are intrigued by the stories will delight in “myth spotting”.
I don’t have enough Greek Mythology background but I thought she was obvious in her connections. Which I thought was great for me and for students who aren’t steeped yet. It makes me want to learn more so I can go deeper and so I can come back and see what I missed! Or misunderstood! Sometimes we think we know stuff...
Odysseus and Telemachus:
My first connection is also a question. I know the flap says the book is a modern retelling of The Odyssey - but who is Odysseus? At this stage of the story, I feel like the girls represent Telemachus, the child of Odysseus who is crushed by his father’s extended absence. Their goal is to bring one missing father home, but I’m hoping they also discover the truth behind their own father’s departure. So is their father Odysseus? He was the “riddle caller” in their game of Loteria, so there is that connection.
On the other hand, the girls have already met a character that could represent the Sirens - the la Llorona spirit who sends Odilia on her quest. So are THEY Odysseus? Can they be both?
Oh.My.God. My head is now spinning and it’s all I can do not to see if this was addressed by McCall somewhere. Can they be both? For now, I see them as Odysseus. The little prologues at the beginning of the sections talk much about their journey as opposed to their dad’s story. Don’t peek ahead to them unless you want spoilers! Will you have your students read an abridged and youthful version of The Odyssey? Actually - I have a reader’s theater script version of the Iliad, Odyssey, and Aeneid. I’ve only ever used the Iliad, though. I do it toward the end of the year with 5th grade, and I have to stop after almost every scene to give them the “here’s what just happened” summary. I can easily see using it earlier in the year and tying it to this book - assuming the rest of the book works for this age group.
Allusions and References
So far I’ve noticed many times when the author uses comparisons to mythical creatures as part of her literary style. The girls are described as “river nymphs” on page 4. The dead man’s hair floating in the water is like “tentacles of a sea monster” (page 6). Juanita herself is compared to an Amazon. This is all in the first twenty pages!
I know! That was something that I enjoyed. She is setting the stage for a different type of story. Would you call this magical realism? I like the simplicity and beauty of the language. I feel as if I can enjoy the story on two levels as both a collector of images and words and a story to have in my pocket for students.
The Hero/Heroine’s Journey
As we mentioned in our first post, Mariposas is written to clearly connect to the parts of the Hero’s Journey model that Campbell describes. Even the names of the chunks of the story (the first part is called The Departure) are designed to connect. Since I adore using this model to my reading groups each year, I’m keeping my eye on this text as a possible addition. Even more, I’m hoping that it ends up being a good example of how the journey of a heroine is similar to - yet different from - the traditional male journey.
So far, Odilia has jumped all of the hurdles from the “first act”.
** We are introduced to her world, and her family. Her family, particularly her sisters joining her on her path, are a more feminine take on the traditional “male striking out on his own” stage.
** She learns she is special - even that she has potentially “noble blood” as the child of the Aztecs - and is called to a task only she can complete. I loved how the la Llorona did this, with the drowning children. This scene really calls Odilia out as the heroine of the tale, with her sisters being the supporting characters. Should we see this spirit as her Mentor, even though she’s also very “Siren-like”? The gift of the earring is definitely magical assistance.
** She has a very distinct “Crossing the threshold” scene as well. It’s even spelled out in exactly those terms, when the narrator declares that she is “leaving behind everything that was familiar and normal and full of life and crossing over the threshold into the darkness of a dead man’s life”. (pg 67) Is it too much that the author actually says that? I didn’t mind it, and I think my students will like to see the direct connection here. Older readers may not appreciate that assistance.
What really makes a hero or heroine’s journey, though, is a coming of age story. I think we’ll see Odilia grow and mature in the next two chunks of the story. I can’t wait! I’m also looking for those pieces of her tale that depart from the traditional male dominated tradition.
My piece covers the hero’s journey exclusively! I actually mentioned the same “crossing the threshold” piece from p. 67.
I don’t think older readers will mind, unless they are going in looking specifically for the hero’s journey. Not many teachers, at least in my school, use the hero’s journey so student’s aren’t familiar with it. I’m hoping to use this in a book club that focuses specifically on the journey, hopefully with strong female main characters! It was being used in 7th grade LA but not for the past three years. Maybe it’s time to bring it back. I do it with 4th and 5th, but they are young enough that I don’t think the explicit connection will feel patronizing to them.
The Family Connection
Beyond the wealth of classical references and the possibility of using the novel in a Hero’s Journey unit, the characters and story are also rich.
I love the sibling interaction the most. As an “oldest” myself, I identify strongly with Odilia. Yet there are connections here for any reader. Youngests may see their story with Pita, and how she constantly lags behind the big kids. Middles have several options, with the twins and the language obsessed second child.
As number 7 of 15, I hold two places in the family. Middle overall but oldest of the children in the house at the same time I was! As a middle, I identify with Jaunita, always wanting to save the world because I was always pushed aside. I wanted to be noticed. This part of me is not as prevalent as when I was younger. As an older child, I was, and still am, an Odilia! Always trying to keep the peace and wanting to do what’s right! I also wanted to run to my mom and just be a kid but she was like their mom, busy! I would always try to walk away but my sense of responsibility, and love for my mom, kept me coming back and following those crazy family schemes!!! Of course, I always felt the youngest ones were babies who always got their way! I still feel that! Wow! That’s quite a unique experience.
The more I discuss this with you, the more I’m liking this book!!
I’m really enjoying this book. It is meeting my need for a well told story, interesting characters, and a peek into a culture that I don’t normally see. I’m hoping this continues!
I mention in my post that I wasn’t sure if I liked this because so much has happened this past month. But, reading and responding to your thoughts has brought me a new appreciation and I can’t wait to dive into Part 2!
Crazy summer schedules may mean another short break before the next section. But rest assured - we'll be back!