The Patron Saint of Butterflies by Cecilia Galante. (Grades 7+)
Mount Blessing is the only home Agnes has ever known. She was born on this religious commune and has lived there for all of her fourteen years. She's a Believer. She strives to behave as a saint would, even going so far as to fast and wear a tight rope around her middle to atone for her sins. She lives the way Emmanuel, the leader of their commune, wants her to, even if it means being punished by him when she's done wrong.
Honey is Agnes's best friend. She's also lived her whole life at Mount Blessing, but her take on it is a bit different than Agnes's. Maybe it's because her mother abandoned her there to be raised by Emmanuel and the other Believers, but Honey hates Mount Blessing. She won't stand for the punishments Emmanuel doles out and she skips services whenever she can get away with it.
Life goes on at Mount Blessing much as it always has... until Agnes's grandmother stops by for a surprise visit and discovers the awful truth of Emmanuel's punishments. Nana Pete decides then and there that she's taking Agnes and Honey out of that place. But it won't be so easy to adjust to life on the outside. And both Agnes and Honey will discover answers to questions they didn't even know they had.
I was immediately drawn in to this story, which is told in alternating chapters by both Agnes and Honey. They're two very different characters with very different views on their life at Mount Blessing. Although I found the character of Honey to be more likeable (she's so spunky and stands up for herself and her own beliefs), I was more intrigued by Agnes. I loved Agnes's transition as she starts to see things in the real world and starts to question everything she's always been taught. It felt so real. There's one particular scene where they attend Sunday services at a Southern Baptist church in North Carolina that really put me right into the moment. I felt like I was there happy and sad and mixed up right alongside Agnes.
That's the other thing I really loved about this book. Besides the intriguing characters, the writing made me feel like I was there. When Honey was working in the butterfly garden at the commune, I could feel the sun on my face and smell the fresh earth all around me. I've never been to a religious commune (or a Southern Baptist church service, for that matter) and Ms. Galante made me feel like I was walking beside the characters in everything they did.
Don't take my word for it. Check out Becky's review and Sarah's review and Melissa's review. Also, Little Willow's got an interview with Cecilia Galante that you won't want to miss. Ms. Galante's also got another book that just came out, Hershey Herself, and I assure you it's been added to my TBR list.