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  Reviews of Dancing with butterflies

*Dancing with Butterflies Reyna Grande Washington Square, $16 paper (416p) ISBN 978-1-4391-0906-9

Grande's lyrical and sensual follow-up to her stunning Across a Hundred Mountains (2006) is well worth the wait. This time out, there is still the poignant intimacy of the Mexican immigrant experience, but it's richly layered into the lives of four women who discover that their passion for the vibrant tradition of Folklórico dancing binds them to their pasts, futures and one another as each faces her own test of love and loyalty. There's Yesenia, the founder of Grupo Folklórico Alegria, who, at 42, is struggling through a midlife crisis that threatens to wreck everything she's loved; Elena, a young dancer and teacher whose stillborn daughter pushes her into a forbidden love; Soledad, a gifted seamstress for the Folklórico group whose dreams of her own dress shop get derailed by a return to Mexico to visit her dying grandmother; and Adriana, Elena's impetuous younger sister, who's involved in an abusive relationship. Nothing is simple for these complex women, but the art and culture of a Mexican dance tradition is what finally saves their lives, and we're lucky to be in the audience. (Oct.)

From Booklist Reviews

"Mexican-born Grande focuses on a subculture in the Latino community to explore universal themes in this worthy follow-up to her award-winning debut novel, Across a Hundred Mountains (2006). Folklórico, a dance that emphasizes the local culture of different regions of Mexico, is the focus around which the stories of four L.A. women and their losses are intertwined. Yesería, who founded Grupo Folklorico Alegría, takes desperate measures to regain her ability and appearance after arthritis curtails her performing. Elena, an Alegría member who codirects a folklórico group at the high school where she teaches, is so immobilized by grief after her baby is stillborn that she ends both her marriage and her dancing. Her younger sister and fellow dancer, Adriana, still angry over childhood events, increasingly allows her lesser self to lapse into destructive behavior. Soledad, a skilled seamstress who makes the group's costumes, has her hopes for the future dashed by the man she loves. Yet the strength of folklórico prevails, as the novel celebrates the sheer exhilaration and physicality of dance and the sustenance of female bonding." Copyright 2009 Booklist Reviews.


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.

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