Book Review: “My Fate According to the Butterfly” by Gail D. Villanueva

When Sab sees a black butterfly – an omen of death in the Philippines – she becomes convinced that her own end is coming. She learned about the omen from her father, who claimed he never knew anyone who lived longer than a week after seeing the delicate yet foreboding creature. Sab has no doubt that her father is right, even though their conversation about the butterfly was before he moved out, back when he used to help her with art projects and before he started disappearing for long stretches of time.

As if that weren’t bad enough, Sab can’t get anyone to believe her; her mother is out of town, and her older sister, Nadine, doesn’t believe in omens. If Sab has only one week to live, she’s determined to make the most of it, and she secretly works to reconcile Nadine with their father before her week is up. She knows there’s some reason Nadine hasn’t spoken to their father in a year – but will she be able to discover it in time?

For such a short novel, My Fate According to the Butterfly packs quite the emotional punch. Author Gail D. Villanueva deftly captures the nuance and deep feeling in Sab’s relationships with her sister, father, mother, and best friend, Pepper. It is these relationships that really drive the story forward, allowing the book to deal with issues like addiction, divorce, and injustice in a way that feels safe.

The story takes place in the Philippines, and Villanueva peppers her narrative with fun details – like Sab’s pet duck (for which she and Pepper have to contrive a diaper) and Sab’s predilection for cheese ice cream – that help immerse young readers in a culture they may not be familiar with. Even though Sab deals with some tough issues, the novel never loses its core sense of friendship and fun. I highly recommend this beautiful book.

A copy of this book was provided by the publisher, Scholastic, for review.