Thursday, February 17, 2011

Book Review: Dancing with Butterflies by Reyna Grande

Dancing with Butterflies is a touching story about the lives of 4 Mexican women. Yesenia and her husband Eduardo own Alegrìa, a Folklòrico dance studio/company in Los Angeles. Elena and Adriana are sisters. Elena, the most naturally talented dancer they had, left Alegrìa to marry her boyfriend Richard when she found out she was pregnant. Adriana lives, eats, breathes Folklòrico, even tho she has to work twice as hard as everyone else and still is not the best. Her true talent is her voice, but she refuses to acknowledge it because dancing makes her feel connected to her long-dead mother. Soledad is an illegal immigrant who came to the US 17 years ago to help her mother take care of her new baby sister, Stephanie. Soledad can't speak much English, and because she has no papers there's not much she can do for work. But she is an incredibly talented costume designer, and when Alegrìa has the money, they hire her to make their costumes. She was born with a birth mark on her face, and her mother always told her that she would never be able to find a man because of it.

Since moving to the US it has been Soledad's dream to own her own dress shop. She saves every penny she can, and her dressmaker friend Rùben promises to help her make her dream come true. He has his papers so he can buy property, whereas she can't. Soledad is in love with Rùben, but he is gay, and he ends up using the money he promised Soledad to have a sex change. Soledad's dream of owning her own shop goes down the drain. Then they get word that Soledad's grandmother is dying, so Soledad and her mother and Stephanie go to Mexico to see Abuelita Licha, but she's already dead when they get there. Then it is a struggle to get Soledad back to America.

Yesenia's knee has been bothering her for sometime, but she keeps dancing in spite of it. Eventually the knee gives out and she can no longer dance. To her, this is the end of life because Folklòrico is everything to her and Eduardo. The doctor tells her that losing weight might help her knee. She eventually decides that dieting is useless, so she goes to Mexico to have liposuction without consulting her husband or son. She then becomes addicted to body-sculpting surgeries (she has a face lift and tummy tuck later on, which doesn't turn out as planned) and steals money from Alegrìa to support her addiction. Her marriage is in a shambles, and she ends up looking up an old high school love interest and having an affair with him.

Elena is almost full term when she loses her baby. The depression that takes over her ruins her marriage and her love for life. She teaches at a local high school, and after her husband leaves, a new student joins her after school Folklòrico dance program. His name is Fernando, she can see his talent and helps him join Alegrìa. She also has an affair with him, but the guilt of their affair on top of the depression from the loss of her marriage and daughter pushes her inside herself and away from everyone she cares about.

Adriana has a knack for always finding the worst men and not being able to hold a steady job. Her mother died when she was young and because Adriana looked so much like her mother, her father would beat her as he had beaten her mother. One time he hit her and she was bleeding and Elena called the cops, and they put their father in jail and made the girls live with their paternal grandparents who hated them. Elena then moved away to college and left Adriana to deal with their grandparents. Adriana has never forgiven Elena for abandoning her. Adriana hooks up with the new dancer, Emilio, at Alegrìa. Emilio is bad news, he beats her up constantly. They plot together how to take over Alegrìa now that Yesenia and Eduardo seem to be having problems and aren't doing their jobs anymore. Emilio uncovers the truth about Yesenia's surgeries and breaks the group up. Then he tells Adriana that he's going to use Stephanie to get the money to start his own dance company, and basically tells Adriana she won't have anything to do with it. She hits him over the head (in the car) and he ends up driving into a tree and running away from the scene. She wasn't wearing her seatbelt so she hit the windshield, but miraculously wasn't seriously injured.

Yesenia decides that while it's too late to save her marriage, she can still try to save Alegrìa by working to put the money she stole back, and finding Soledad to smuggle her back. She enlists Elena to take over as director of the new Alegrìa, and she agrees. Adriana finally decides to try out for a mariachi band and give up on dancing. And Soledad finally comes home after months in Mexico, 2 failed attempts at crossing the border, and an injured ankle.

Butterflies is the recurring theme because the dancers look like butterflies; in Mexican culture, butterflies are the spirits of loved ones who have passed; Soledad would always tell anyone who would listen about the Monarch butterflies coming to her hometown (which she was able to see again while she was in Mexico); and Adriana had once overheard her mother talking to Yesenia about the children dancing and said that they looked like butterflies except for Adriana who looked more like a moth, which made Adriana hate butterflies and get a tattoo of a moth on her shoulder.

The end!

Overall story rating: 9.5/10
Recommendation: 18+ for language and mature content

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