Inspired by her childhood in a religious commune, Galante's swift-moving debut novel may hold a ripped-from-the-headlines fascination for readers. But those who take the bait will find more contrivance than substance in the tale of two teenage girls' very different attitudes about the cloistered life they have been born into. Secluded at the Mount Blessing compound under the rule of the manipulative Emmanuel, 14-year-old Agnes strives for sainthood. Her best friend, Honey, however, questions Emmanuel's tactics and authority, and secretly longs for a normal life with TV, fashionable clothes and fast food. An injury to Agnes's younger brother sets in motion a daring escape from Mount Blessing orchestrated by the siblings' grandmother, with Honey along for the ride. As relationships strain and new situations arise, no one is sure what move to make next. The girls' friendship and their respective expressions of doubt in their faith-and in the adults they love-seem mostly convincing, but heavy foreshadowing and too many neatly aligned coincidences detract from the story. Ages 12-up. (May)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
The Patron Saint of Butterfliesby Cecilia Galante
Agnes and Honey have always been best friends, but they haven't always been so different. Agnes loves being a Believer. She knows the rules at the Mount Blessing religious commune are there to make her a better person. Honey hates Mount Blessing and the control Emmanuel, their leader, has over her life. The only bright spot is the butterfly garden she's helping to
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Agnes and Honey have always been best friends, but they haven't always been so different. Agnes loves being a Believer. She knows the rules at the Mount Blessing religious commune are there to make her a better person. Honey hates Mount Blessing and the control Emmanuel, their leader, has over her life. The only bright spot is the butterfly garden she's helping to build, and the journal of butterflies that she keeps. When Agnes's grandmother makes an unexpected visit to the commune, she discovers a violent secret that the Believers are desperate to keep quiet. And when Agnes's little brother is seriously injured and Emmanuel refuses to send him to a hospital, Nana Pete takes the three children and escapes the commune. Their journey begins an exploration of faith, friendship, religion and family for the two girls, as Agnes clings to her familiar faith while Honey desperately wants a new future.
Gr 6-9- Honey and Agnes are 14-year-old best friends growing up in the Mount Blessing religious commune near Fairfield, CT, but are polar opposites in their adherence to the "Four Big Rules" that govern daily life. Honey, abandoned at the commune as a newborn, is a perpetual rebel, having most recently been sent to the Regulation Room for kissing a boy. There, the group's founder/leader, the charismatic Emmanuel, metes out punishments. Agnes is a self-described "saint wannabe." She starves herself, sleeps on stones, and wears a cord tightly belted under her robe as reminders of the suffering endured by the saints. The girls share a love for Nana Pete, Agnes's father's mother, and live for her annual summer visits. When Nana discovers the physical and emotional abuse imposed on the children, she resolves to spirit them away. Honey is a willing runaway, but Agnes is reluctant. The kids' new reality includes "firsts" such as visits to McDonald's and Wal-Mart. Their route ends in Georgia, at the home of Agnes's estranged aunt. In the realistic and emotionally charged climax, family ties are revealed and, thanks to Honey's forethought and Agnes's new understanding that the truth can set you free, the cult is soon busted, police lights flashing. If both girls occasionally seem wise beyond their years, readers will nevertheless cheer them on as they ponder the limits of faith and duty.-Joel Shoemaker, Southeast Junior High School, Iowa City, IA
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Read an Excerpt
The Patron Saint of Butterflies
By Cecilia Galante
Copyright © 2008
All right reserved.
Chapter One Agnes
"Please tell me what to do," I whisper, staring at the crucifix on the wall. "Is there any other way to get out of here right now without telling a lie? Could you just give me a sign to let me know? Maybe blink your eyes or nod your head or something?" Clasping my hands under my chin, I bow my head, close my eyes, and wait. Around me, the other twenty-seven kids in the room continue chanting the afternoon prayers, their lips moving methodically over the Latin words. The air in the room is warm and stale. My knees are grinding into the thin carpet and I can detect the faint smell of sweat under my blue robe. Some days, afternoon prayers can feel like they go on forever. I count to ten and raise my head again. The Christ figure on the cross remains frozen in his agonizing position: hands and feet nailed to the wood, ribs exposed, eyes raised heavenward. My shoulders sag. No sign this time.
Well, that's it, then. There's simply no other way. It's just that the thought of having to tell a lie makes me mad. Furious, even. I've done so well this whole week, and now I'm going to blow it because of Honey. This is her fault. If she hadn't taken off after Emmanuel called us into the Regulation Room this morning, I wouldn't even be in this situation. Why does she have to go and do things like that? It's not like it was the end of the world or anything. Peter and I had been called in there with her, and then Emmanuel told the two of us to go back down to the East House. Honey had been ordered to stay behind for some reason, but I'm sure it wasn't a big deal. At least, I don't think it was. I just can't get rid of the feeling that something might not be right this time. Four hours have passed and there's been no sign of her. She's run off before after Regulation Room visits, but never for more than an hour. Lie or no lie, I've got to find her.
Behind me, a throat clears. I turn my head slightly and lock eyes with Peter. He has pushed his light brown hair, which usually hangs in his eyes, off his face. He's part of the reason we got into trouble this morning, and I know he feels guilty for Honey's prolonged absence. "Are you going to go find her?" he whispers. His teeth, large and crooked, look too big for his small mouth. What Honey sees in him is beyond me. Peter knows as well as I do that if anyone finds Honey outside today, she'll get in even bigger trouble than she did this morning. It is Ascension Week here at Mount Blessing, and no one is allowed outside except to walk to and from the Great House for meals.
Mount Blessing is the religious commune just outside of Fairfield, Connecticut, where I was born. I live here with my parents and my little brother, Benny, along with about two hundred and sixty other people, including Honey. Mount Blessing was founded by our leader, Emmanuel, who wanted to create a community of holy people, separate and apart from the sinfulness of the rest of the world. There is no one in the world quite like Emmanuel. My dad told me once that the reason so many people keep coming to live here is because Emmanuel can make broken people whole again. And it's true. There have been people who have come here messed up on drugs, feeling lost or even suicidal. After spending a week or so with Emmanuel, they become completely new people, striving to live good, religious lives. He heals them from the inside out. And sometimes from the outside in. After Emmanuel laid his hands on little Frankie Peters, who has been stuttering since first grade, he began to talk just as well as the rest of us. And just last year, Grace Willoby's facial tics vanished completely after Emmanuel prayed over her. Dad tells us all the time how lucky we are to be living with such a saintly man, and I know he's right.
Now I glance at the clock on the wall. One thirty. Taking a deep breath, I look back at Peter and nod my head. His whole face relaxes as he closes his eyes and resumes chanting. But I cannot even look at the crucifix when I turn back around. Bowing my head, I make the sign of the cross over my chest and try to control the quavering in my whispered voice.
"I know telling a lie is a sin, but I have to go find Honey and I just can't think of any other way to get out of here right now. I will make it up to you with an extra penance tonight. I promise. Please forgive me." I squeeze my hands so tight that my knuckles turn white. "Please." Reaching under my robe, I pull out The Saints' Way from inside the waistband of my jeans. The Saints' Way is a book about how to live our lives, using the life stories of saints as examples. All the adults at Mount Blessing have the book, but Emmanuel gives each child a personal copy on his or her twelfth birthday. I got mine two years ago, and I'll never forget it.
I was both nervous and excited that morning: excited to be turning twelve and nervous about going in to see Emmanuel, who would present me with the book. It is always a huge honor to have a private meeting with Emmanuel, but it also made me a little shaky. Standing in front of him is an intimidating experience, what I imagine looking directly at God would feel like. Anyway, Mom ironed my best dress and helped me pin my hair up into a neat bun, and Dad was waiting for me on the front porch when I came out. The sun had just risen and the air was still cold and purple.
"You ready?" Dad said, inserting his hands into the sleeves of his big blue robe. Everyone at Mount Blessing wears blue robes-all the time.
I nodded and straightened out the folds in my own robe. "I think so."
"You look nice," Dad said, holding out his hand. "Especially your hair." I wanted to tell him that being twelve meant that he didn't have to hold my hand as we walked toward the Great House, but I didn't. It's not every day that Dad compliments me, and I didn't want to ruin the moment. We stood outside Emmanuel's room and Dad rang the buzzer that would let him know we were there. In a few seconds, the red light above the door began to blink. My mouth was as dry as sand as we walked inside.
Emmanuel's room is enormous, even bigger than the whole first floor of the house I live in with Mom and Dad and Benny. At any given time, there are usually between ten and twenty people in there, but this morning it was empty-except for him. He was sitting in his huge chair, a beautiful, hand-carved piece of furniture that had been made especially for him, eating grapefruit sections out of a glass cup. He didn't have his blue robe on for some reason, and without it, he looked different, almost human. Dad and I fell to our knees, bowed our heads, and waited.
Emmanuel cleared his throat. "Come in," he said.
Dad and I stood back up and tiptoed over the plush white carpeting, past the baby grand piano and the wall of wooden wine racks, which held numerous slender bottles of wine. Next to the wine racks was an oil painting portrait of the Blessed Virgin, which Emmanuel had painted himself. Her face was a cloudy gray color and her eyes, which were wide and black, stared back at me as I made my way across the room.
"I hear it is someone's birthday," Emmanuel said, placing his empty glass on a table next to his chair. It made a light clinking sound against the wood.
I nodded mutely and stared at his pressed white shirt and casual gray slacks. I still couldn't get over how different he looked without that robe on. He even had slippers on! Dad nudged me with his elbow and I gulped.
"Yes, Emmanuel," I said quickly. "Thank you."
Emmanuel wiped his gray beard with a cloth napkin and then raised his eyebrows. "You know what happens on your twelfth birthday, don't you, Agnes?"
I nodded again, swallowing hard over a lump in my throat. I couldn't believe the moment was actually here, that it was finally happening. When Mom and Dad had been presented with their books, it had been such an exciting day for them. They told me how they had spent hours that evening leafing slowly through the pages and then sliding the slender volumes onto their new home on the bookshelf. Each night they would pull their books back out and read another page.
I watched as Emmanuel leaned over and took a small book off the little table. A gold ring on his finger glinted under the light. "Come here," he said to me. I stepped forward on shaky legs and stared at the book in his hands. "You are an adult now," Emmanuel said. There was a pause, and I realized he was waiting for me to make eye contact with him. I raised my head and studied the sharp planes of his narrow face, his bushy eyebrows, and his watery gray eyes. Even his beard, which rested-neatly trimmed-against the top of his collarbone, looked virtuous. He smiled at me. "You are an adult now," he said again. "Capable of leading the life of a saint." He held out the book. I took it from him with trembling hands. It was heavier than it looked, with a black cover and the title, The Saints' Way, inscribed in gold lettering. "Study this book," Emmanuel continued. "Learn all you can from the greatest living examples ever to walk the earth." I nodded, pressing the book against my chest. "And then live your life accordingly, as a saint would."
"I will," I whispered.
Emmanuel nodded and smiled again at me. "I have great faith in you, Agnes. Your name means lamb, which symbolizes purity and innocence. You are capable of doing remarkable things. Do not ever forget that."
My eyes filled with tears; it was such an emotional thing to hear Emmanuel say he had faith in me, that I could do something remarkable. Imagine! Me! "I won't forget," I said, feeling my voice get stronger. "I promise."
Next to me, Dad beamed.
In the last two years I've read The Saints' Way at least six or seven times all the way through, earmarking the stories I like best. Now I turn to Saint Rose of Lima, who has become one of my favorites. Born in South America, she spent her entire life trying to make up for the sins she committed. Her tolerance for pain and suffering was nothing short of spectacular. Skimming the list of her favorite penances, I try to determine which one I will do tonight:
Tie a length of rope around the waist until it is tightly uncomfortable. Check.
Fast for three days. (Only water and the occasional citron seed.) Check.
Sleep on a bed of broken glass, rocks, or other sharp objects.
Placing the book back inside the front of my pants, I retie the itchy string around my waist, tightening it until it cuts into the soft flesh. I started wearing the waist string three months ago, after I got mad at Benny and yelled at him. Now, every time I feel it chafe against my skin, I offer up the pain for any failings I have committed that day. I also fast pretty regularly-skipping breakfast and dinner at least three days a week. Fasting is a big thing with saints in general. Saint Francis of Assisi and Saint Catherine of Siena used to go weeks without any solid food. My personal record is four days, but then I fainted in the pool and almost drowned, so I had to start eating again. But I have never slept on a bed of broken glass or rocks. I'm sure it will hurt, but like the others, it will be a great test of my will.
Smoothing my robe back into place, I stand up slowly, taking care not to distract anyone, and walk toward Christine in the back of the room. Christine Miller, an older woman in her late fifties, is in charge of all the kids at Mount Blessing. She has three or four young women who help her-especially with the little kids-but she's the one who calls the shots when it comes to us coming and going. She watches me wind my way through the room, narrowing her eyebrows a little. Her long black braid hangs over one shoulder and little wisps of loose hair curl around the sides of her face. I stop in front of her, hesitating as her lips pause midchant.
"I have to go lie down upstairs," I whisper, rushing over the words. "My stomach is killing me."
Christine studies me for a moment. I am counting on her knowledge of what went on this morning, hoping it will persuade her to let me leave. She and I will never talk about what went on inside the Regulation Room-or that the reason the three of us were summoned there at all was because she went and told Emmanuel that we were misbehaving-but I know she feels bad about it. She always feels guilty when one of the kids has to go to the Regulation Room. She's been in charge of all of us for fifteen years now, but she's still pretty much a softie.
"Go ahead," she whispers, reaching out and straightening the belt cord around my robe. "I'll come up later to check on you."
Afternoon prayers won't end until 2:45, which means I have a little over an hour to find Honey, assess the situation, and get the two of us back before Christine realizes I've left the building. I sneak out the back door, fastening my hair into a bun at the nape of my neck, and head toward the barn, which is where Honey escaped to the last time. The barn is all the way on the other side of the grounds, only a ten- or fifteen-minute trek if I use the main path. But since it is Ascension Week, I walk along the back road, staying low to the ground to avoid being seen.
The sky is a brilliant bowl of blue. I hate that. On days like this, when everything hurts the way it does, I wish the sky would turn black and that it would rain and rain until I felt better again. I move as quickly as possible, bent over at the waist, clutching the hem of my robe in one hand, pausing briefly to stuff my pockets full of small stones. The welts on my rear end and the backs of my legs make the awkward movements painful. I grit my teeth and offer up the pain for the lie I have just told.
The smell of green is everywhere. The five or six apple trees that line the path are just starting to blossom; from a distance, they look like enormous pink cotton balls. Bright gold petals clot the field like splayed fingers, and every few moments the lonely caw of a crow splits the silence. Up ahead is the school-house, a large brown building shaped like an A-frame, where all the children at Mount Blessing attend school. Honey, Peter, and I are in ninth grade this year. There are only two other kids in our class: Amanda Woodward, who is incredibly smart, and James Terwilliger, who can swim three lengths of the pool underwater. I like that we have a small class. Benny's first-grade class has seventeen kids in it, and Honey told me once that public schools can have as many as thirty kids in one room. That would drive me crazy. I don't know how I would think!
Honey complains about it all the time, but I love living here at Mount Blessing. I can't imagine living anywhere else or being anything but a Believer. That's what we're known as, the Believers, because that's what we do. We believe. Specifically, we believe in two things: Christianity and Emmanuel, which, when you think about it, is everything we could possibly need or want. I've never left the grounds of Mount Blessing, but I wouldn't want to. I actually get hives when I think about it. It's so huge and dangerous out there, and so full of sin. How could anyone possibly be a saint with all those temptations surrounding them? I feel sorry for the men at Mount Blessing who have to go into the outside world to work so they can help pay the bills. My father, for example, works at a mattress company in Fairfield. I asked him once what it was like having to leave every morning and sell mattresses, and he touched my cheek with his finger. "There's no place in the world I'd rather be than right here," he said. "But if Emmanuel wants me to work, then that's what I'll do."
There are rules here that we all have to follow, like wearing the blue robes, going to three daily prayer services, not eating red or orange food (which is symbolic of the devil), and things like that, but they're not a big deal. When you think about it, if a place with two hundred and sixty people living in it didn't have rules, it would be chaos! The really important rules-ones we abide by to live as holy a life as possible-are the ones that really count, anyway. These are known as the Big Four, and they were probably the first things we learned when we started to talk. The Big Four is what being a Believer is all about:
I. In all things, strive for perfection.
II. Clothe the body, adorn the soul. (This is the reason for our robes. We need to spend our time worrying about perfecting our souls, not our wardrobes.)
III. Waste nothing.
IV. Tempt not, lest you be tempted. (Temptations include things like television, magazines, radios, or anything at all that has to do with bringing the outside world into our community.)
Excerpted from The Patron Saint of Butterflies by Cecilia Galante Copyright © 2008 by Cecilia Galante. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Meet the Author
Cecilia Galante grew up in a religious commune in upstate New York until the age of 15. She is currently a high school English teacher, and lives with her husband and three children in Kingston, PA.
CECILIA GALANTE has a BA from King's College, Pennsylvania, and an MFA in creative writing from Goddard College, Vermont. Her previous books include Hershey, Herself and The Patron Saint of Butterflies. A former high school English teacher, Cecilia lives with her husband and three children in Pennsylvania. www.ceciliagalante.com
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This book is amazing. So compassionate and interesting...you can read it over and over again.
Agnes and Honey have been best friends since they were born. They both live, along with 260 others, in a religious commune called Mount Blessings. Here they abide by severe rules and try to live the most perfect life possible, except that there are some horrendous and not-so-perfect secrets that are kept.
As Honey and Agnes get older, their personalities drift apart, until they are complete opposites of each other. Agnes wants nothing more than to be a saint, while Honey wants to leave the commune and never look back. When Agnes' grandma, Nana Pete, comes for an unexpected visit, she is horrified to learn one of the most horrendous secrets about the commune and immediately takes Agnes, Honey, and Agnes' brother, Benny, out of Mount Blessings.
Honey is overjoyed to finally be out of the grasps of the commune and is thoroughly enjoying Big Macs, driving a car, and shopping at everyone's favorite store, Wal-Mart. Agnes, on the other hand, is scared to death and feels like it's a sin just to be outside of the commune. She can't find any joy in buying ribbons for her hair or scented shampoo, and knows she must find a way back to Mount Blessings.
When a secret is finally unearthed, both girls learn that they need to dig deep inside themselves to find the courage to survive and make the right decisions.
This is a stunning, incredible, and heartfelt novel. I instantly fell in love with the book when I saw the cover, and then was completely shocked with the actual story. It was completely amazing. Agnes and Honey were deep characters that I was really able to connect with. The book also had a completely different level of emotion in it that I hadn't really experienced before. I could really tell that the author was writing from her heart and that made me enjoy the story even more.
The author addressed so many different points in this novel such as friendship, family, and the ability to ask for help. I also loved the setting of the book. I'd never really even heard about religious communes before reading this book and realized that I like being able to live my life the way I want and not have to always be bound by rules. Some points that Cecilia Galante made about religion also really spoke to me. I found it really ironic that I read two books that had so much to do with religion back-to-back (the other being CHANGE OF HEART by Jodi Picoult) and found that a few points showed up in both books.
What surprised me the most though is that this is the author's first novel. The writing was so eloquent and put together that I was stunned. I can't wait to see what Cecilia Galante has coming our way next; in fact her next book, HERSHEY HERSELF, comes out in May.
I can't recommend this book enough. I had the pleasure of meeting the author at a book club, and her life story is fascinating. Even though this is a 'young adult' book, adults will love it too. I can't wait to read more by Cecila!
You will love it
Other than some bad language, this is an incredibly good book. It is also very thought provoking.
I loved this book! I read in a matter of days! A must read and highly recommened
Wonderful story. Will read it again :)
Agnes and Honey are two very different girls with very different places in their commune, one struggling to purify herself, the other struggling to free herself. Agnes has a family Honey is an orphan, living in a shack with the commune's handyman. It is only when Agnes's grandmother learns of what happens to the girls when they are disciplined, and kidnaps them and Agnes's little brother, that they are given a chance to look at their commune from a distance and make their own choices. Agnes could seem a little too perfect, except that we're inside her head as she struggles to believe what she has always been taught, and we share Honey's love of freedom and butterflies. Through the girls' eyes we get a scorching look at adults as normal human beings, with good points and flaws. And we get to savor things about the everyday world that we take for granted, but which are strange to them, like shopping and fast food. This book is especially timely now, with 413 children being taken from the commune in Texas on suspicion of abuse. It's a good illustration of how people live with such hard rules in their daily life.