Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Debut Roundup: The Patron Saint of Butterflies; Artichoke's Heart

Welcome to Debut Roundup, highlighting first novels from newly-published writers.

The Patron Saint of Butterflies
Cecilia Galante
2008; Bloomsbury; 978-1-59990-249-4 (hardback)

Summary: Life at the commune called Mount Blessing is something like heaven for Agnes . . . and close to hell for Honey. While Agnes listens to the words of the commune's leader, Emmanual, and hopes to be a saint, Honey would rather spend time drawing butterflies and learning more about the outside world. If it wasn't for an unexpected visit and an accident, Agnes and Honey would be at Mount Blessing forever. Will the girls' inner strength and their lifelong friendship be enough to face the dangers--both at Mount Blessing and in the wide world?

Commentary: The alternating voices of Honey and Agnes carry this novel. Both girls have a well-developed personality, with quirks and contrasts. Other characters, like Grandma Pete, are equally compelling. However, there are some definite flaws to this novel. Rather than a smooth, flowing narrative, cliches and coincidences make the story move in a herky-jerky fashion. Factual errors--like a Wal-Mart being located nowhere near the town named in the book--and some dangerous behavior--Honey, despite being only fourteen, is put behind the wheel of a car by Grandma Pete--further blunt the power of the story. The realistic details of living in a commune and the interesting characters make this book an interesting read, yet discerning readers will be able to guess the "surprising twists" too easily.

Artichoke's Heart
Suzanne Supplee
2008; Dutton; 978-0-525-47902-4 (hardback)

Summary: Rosemary is a fat girl. She thinks that's all she'll be, because that's all people see. They don't see the good student, the caring daughter, the girl with a crush. In spite of her size, she's invisible--except for cruel taunts and well-meaning cookies. Yet oh-so-slowly, Rosemary starts to lose weight. And as the pounds come off, so do the blinders: her own, and the ones on the eyes of the people in her life.

Commentary: Full of plot points, this novel is thankfully not overstuffed. Rosemary's struggles with her weight are explored, with both the good (losing weight, exercising with a new friend, wearing new clothes) and the bad (fighting temptation, adjusting the mental outlook). Yet her weight loss is only part of Rosemary's story. Just as important is improving her relationship with her mother, recently diagnosed with cancer, and discovering that her crush likes her, in spite of her weight. This novel features a Southern voice that's just right. This novel is not without flaws--Rosemary starting her diet with shakes and not proper nutrition and some over-the-top, stereotyped minor characters--detract from the positives. Yet there are still much to like in this story. In the crowded ranks of novels about girls losing weight and finding self-esteem, this book stands out.

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