Four Los Angelenas connected to the vibrant world of Mexican Folklórico dance tell their stories.
Their troupe, Alegría, dances to mariachi music, performing indigenous forms ranging from Aztec tribal steps to German-influenced polkas. After an arthritic knee ends her performing career, Alegría’s founder and star Yesenia undergoes a midlife crisis that threatens her marriage. Husband Eduardo begins to unravel when Yesenia radically alters her plump form with cut-rate plastic surgery in Tijuana (not so cut-rate that she doesn’t have to embezzle from Alegría to pay for it). Soledad, Alegría’s talented costume designer, is troubled by her lack of citizenship, her disfiguring birthmark and her younger half sister Stephanie, who receives a large malpractice settlement. Elena, 36 weeks pregnant, learns that her fetus’s heart has stopped beating; after delivering her dead baby, she no longer has the spirit to dance with Alegría or to preserve her one-year marriage. Adriana, Elena’s younger sister, has always resented her for causing their abusive father’s arrest and conviction, then going away to school and leaving Adriana with their vindictive paternal grandparents. Also a performer with Alegría, party-girl Adriana takes up with bad-boy Emilio, the company’s newest virtuoso, who beats her just as her father used to. Elena, who teaches high school in addition to dancing, is fighting her growing attraction to an earnest—and underage—student. When her grandmother’s death requires Soledad to return to Michoacán, winter home to the mass-migrating Monarch butterflies who provide the novel’s central motif (and title), all the story lines interact pleasingly and suspensefully as her friends plot Soledad’s reentry into California.
Absorbing arcana about butterflies and Folklórico traditions, descriptions of food way beyond burritos, not to mention an unflinching depiction of the immigration debacle’s personal toll, underscore the fierce humanity of these wise-Latinas-in-training.