By Ting Mikyunyu
This story is set some time in the not too distant future, in a small town in the Appalachians, where Dellarobia lives with her husband, Cub and their two children on a sheep farm that belongs to his parents. Their life is frugal, hard and thankless, but they do their best for their children. Far too closely nearby live her husband’s parents, Bear and Hester.
Behind their homes the hills rise sharply to their fir tree forest. Hardly anyone goes there, but one winter day Dellarobia did. She sees the butterflies, millions of monarchs that have migrated to that forest. They should have been in Mexico. Her experience with the butterflies opens up a whole new world for her. Scientists come in; her mother-in-law tries to make a tourist attraction out of the situation; the media do what media do best - play foul with people’s lives and shortcut sensations. Local religion gets in on the act.
Throughout it all the winter threatens the over-wintering colony. That and the logging issue.
Dellarobia becomes involved with the phenomenon, learning about the butterflies, their migration routes, their food plants, and how it’s not this generation that travels, but their offspring and their offsprings’ offspring. How do they know where to go? Her young son helps the other kids at his kindergarten to learn, too. And then there’s the science and how it is translated into language relevant to the community, and to the children. Science, per se, gets taken to task very nicely.
There are many humourous moments; many moments that parents of small children will relate to very easily; moments of unusual insight into human behaviour. There are also many heart-stopping, breath-taking moments. (One in particular reminds me of a similar moment in the Aubrey-Maturin novels.) A Mexican child, whose home used to be in the place where monarchs overwintered, is with Bellarobia looking at this amazing sight and tells how where she came from the people believe the monarchs are the souls of dead children.
This novel works on numerous levels. The many storylines are superbly woven together, mixed and matched and then veer off at crazy angles, to come back together again in new patterns. The characters are many, varied and totally convincing; the children sparkle and bounce and annoy and confound and we see the truths through their eyes.