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The Patron Saint of Butterflies by Cecilia Galante

The Patron Saint of Butterflies
y Cecilia Galante

Publishing Information: Bloomsbury: New York, 2008
ISBN: 9781599902494 / 9781599903774 (PB)
: 292 p.
Ages: 12 & Up

When her grandmother takes fourteen-year-old Agnes, her younger brother, and best friend Honey and escapes Mount Blessing, a Connecticut religious commune, Agnes clings to the faith she loves while Honey looks toward a future free of control, cruelty, and preferential treatment.

Book Talk:
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.   

Subject Headings & Major Themes:

Christian life
Identity (Psychology)

Awards & Reviews:
Book Sense Pick, 2008

Arizona's Grand Canyon Reader Award Nominee, 2010
Northeast Independent Booksellers Association Young Adult Book of the Year, 2008
Oprah's Kids' Reading Lists

Booklist, April 15, 2008, p. 41
Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, July 1, 2008
Kirkus Reviews, April 15, 2008
Publishers Weekly, May 5, 2008, p. 63
School Library Journal, June 1, 2008, p. 140
VOYA: Voice of Youth Advocates, June 1, 2008

Discussion Questions and Ideas:

  1. The book begins with a quote from Czeslaw Milosz, a Polish poet and academic: “In a room where people unanimously maintain a conspiracy of silence, one word of truth
    sounds like a pistol shot.” Did this quote add to your understanding of the story? How do you think it relates to events in the book?
  2. What do you think of the Big Four (strive for perfection; clothe the body, adorn the soul; waste nothing; tempt not lest you be tempted) of the Believers?
    Do you think they are achievable? Desirable? How are they violated in the story? 
  3. Agnes explains that Honey is Mount Blessing’s only orphan. Does this knowledge make life easier or harder for Honey?
  4. Honey says, “The whole point of being human is to make mistakes.” Do you agree? If yes, how so? If not, do you think perfection is attainable?
  5. Agnes loves to run, especially in the rain, but she does not allow herself to for most of the story. What does running mean to her, and why does she feel that she should deny herself this pleasure? Have you ever denied yourself something pleasurable, and if so, why?
  6. Admitting that the abuse at Mount Blessing was wrong took all of Agnes’s conviction. What was Agnes giving up when she told the police about the Regulation Room? 
    What would you have done in a similar situation?
  7. What was your reaction when you learned that Agnes’ parents let Emmanuel abuse their children, and that they had allowed him to do the same to them?
    Do you think they should be punished for their actions? If yes, how so? If not, why?
  8. What do you imagine Agnes’s dad’s story would be? What about Agnes’s mom? 
  9. What qualities do you think Emmanuel has that attracts so many people to him? What personality traits do you think make some people more susceptible to Emmanuel than others?
  10. Agnes and Honey struggle to figure out what makes a person good and how it relates to their community’s ideals. Honey frequently berates Agnes for her stoic belief in what the community says and what sometimes seems like alack of natural sympathy for her loved ones. Have you observed in your own experiences a difference between goodness and morality? What are the differences, if there are any?
  11. How does Nana Pete’s death affect the different characters? What do their reactions show us about Agnes, Lillian, and Agnes’s dad? 
  12. Do you think that both Emmanuel and Veronica deserve to go to jail? Is Veronica another victim of Emmanuel’s magnetism, or has she too become culpable over the years? 
  13. If you were to produce a movie of this book, whom would you cast in the roles of Honey and Agnes?

Related Websites:
Author’s Website:
9NEWS Denver, CO “Concerned Christians” cult led by Kim Miller:
Christian Cults and Aberrational Groups:
Daily Trojan (USC) “USC professor warns that cults may target students.” Janna Brancolini. 10/12/2007:
FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin. “New Religious Movements.”:
New York Times. “Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.”:
NPR. “Texas Town Wary of Polygamist Sect's Arrival”:
ABC News: Nightline “When Having Kids is a Religious Experience: A Growing Movement for Growing Families for God”:
Talk to Action. “Mainstreaming "Quiverfull":
Salon. “All God's children.”
New Religious Movements:

Fundamentalist Religious Movements

Alis by Naomi Rich, 2009
Armageddon Summer by Bruce Coville and Jane Yolen, 1998
Asylum for Nightface by Bruce Brooks, HarperTrophy 1999
Blind Faith by Ellen Wittlinger, 2006
The Book of Fred by Abby Bardi, 2002
The Calling by Cathryn Clinton, 2001
Catalyst by Laurie Halse Anderson, 2002 (2004 RITBA Nominee)
Circle the Truth by Pat Schmatz, 2007
A Fine White Dust by Cynthia Rylant, 1986
Leaving Fishers by Margaret Peterson Haddix, 2004
Memoirs of a Bookbat by Kathryn Lasky, 1996
The Singing Mountain by Sonia Levitin, 2000
Sister Wife by Shelley Hrdlitschka, 2008
Summer of the Redeemers by Haines, Carolyn, 1995

Other Books by the Author:
Hershey Herself, 2008

About the Author:
Fifty Things You May (or May Not) Want to Know About Me

  1. I was born on June 15, 1971.
  2. I am a Gemini, which, if you know anything about astrology, explains a LOT.
  3. I am the oldest of eight children – four girls, four boys.
  4. When I was six years old, an older boy dared me to eat a worm. I did. It was everything I thought it might be: cold, slimy and gross. I don’t recommend it.
  5. My mom told me that when I was really little, I used to walk around with a piece of paper and a pencil, look at things and then make scribble marks on the paper. (My dad was a newspaper reporter. It must have been in the blood.)
  6. I had a favorite blanket on my bed with a pale orange, super-soft underside. I called it “Peachy” and couldn’t go to sleep without it.
  7. When I was seven, I found a secret hiding place in the crook of an apple tree alongside an old dusty road. I used to sit there and watch people walk by underneath – or stare up at the sky overhead. For hours.
  8. I loved school.
  9. My favorite subject was reading.
  10. One of my favorite foods growing up was chopped chicken liver on matzoh bread. (Sounds gross, I know, but trust me, it’s better than worms.)
  11. When I was ten years old, I swam two lengths of an Olympic-sized swimming pool – underwater.
  12. When I was fifteen, my family moved to Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania.
  13. In 10th grade, I read The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger. I remember finishing the last page, closing the book, and deciding, right then and there, that I was going to become a writer.
  14. My very first job was as an ice-cream scooper at a place called DJ’s in the Poconos. I wasn’t very good. I dropped a lot of cones and gained 15 pounds. But it was a lot of fun.
  15. I went to King’s College in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania and took every English and writing course available.
  16. At twenty years old, I decided to get married.
  17. In 1992, I moved to Long Island, New York to start a “new life.”
  18. On February 13, 1993, during a terrible blizzard that dropped eighteen inches of snow in New York, I had a baby girl. Life as I knew it became INFINITELY better.
  19. For awhile, my baby and I lived in a battered women’s shelter in Long Island, until we could return back to Pennsylvania. This experience would later become the inspiration for Hershey Herself.
  20. After returning to Pennsylvania, I decided it was time to get serious about writing.
  21. I wrote a memoir about my experiences growing up in a religious commune, found an agent and waited.
  22. And waited. Forty-eight rejections slips later, I got a letter from my agent which stated very kindly, but very firmly, that we were “done.”
  23. I wrote another book about a girl named Lily Sinclair who loves shoes and decaf coffee. This time, I sent it out by myself and waited.
  24. And waited. Seventeen rejections later, I decided maybe I needed some more direction with my writing.
  25. I was accepted to Goddard College in Plainfield Vermont and graduated with a Master’s Degree in Creative Writing in 2003.
  26. The most important thing I learned at graduate school was not to give up. No matter what. Just. Keep. On. Working.
  27. I got married again and started another book. About a girl named Hershey.
  28. I found another agent. She sent Hershey Herself out to numerous publishing houses. The rejections began to come in.
  29. I had another baby and started another book. This one was about two girls, one named Honey, the other named Agnes.
  30. A year later, I finished The Patron Saint of Butterflies and sent it to my agent.
  31. Two weeks later, she called and told me Bloomsbury had made an offer on the book.
  32. The next day, she called back and told me Simon & Schuster had made an offer on Hershey Herself.
  33. Two weeks later, I gave birth to a baby boy!
  34. I am working on another book right now. (I don’t believe in spoiler alerts, so I won’t tell you what it’s about.)
  35. I teach high school English to a completely fabulous bunch of 7th, 8th and 9th graders at Meyers High School in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania.
  36. I have a Wall of Fame in my room which lists a student’s name every time they get a perfect score on one of my tests. The third time their name gets on the Wall of Fame, they get a present from me.
  37. If the temperature outside is at least 40 degrees, I try to run a few miles every morning.
  38. My favorite shows on TV are Law & Order: SVU (I would be happy watching Chris Meloni do anything), Everyday Italian with Giada DiiLaurentis on the Food Network, and Project Runway.
  39. I love, love, love clothes.
  40. I think I may also have a shoe addiction.
  41. I have the greatest mother-in-law any girl could ever hope for.
  42. I love going to the movies, but I am a little bit of a movie snob. With the exception of Airplane and Naked Gun, which both have the ability to make me laugh until I choke, I don’t like stupid movies.
  43. I am a Democrat – and a huge Barack Obama fan.
  44. My favorite authors are Laurie Halse Anderson, Roland Merullo, Alice Munro, Lorrie Moore, Louis Sachar, Frank McCourt, and J.D. Salinger.
  45. My favorite books are The Catcher in the Rye, Speak, A Little Love Story, Like Life, Angela’s Ashes, One Hundred Years of Solitude, and White Oleander.
  46. Out of all my brothers and sisters, I am the only one who still lives in the area.
  47. I know now that it doesn’t matter where you live; it matters what you do where you live. And you can write anywhere.
  48. I love sliced avocados sprinkled with sea salt.
  49. I have not tried chopped chicken livers on matzoh bread since I was about eight years old.
  50. Same goes for worms.


| ©2004 - Rhode Island Teen Book Award Committee | Aaron Coutu, Chair