Note: This post was rewritten September 14, 2019 to include only the interview.
My Fate According to the Butterfly is a moving middle-grade debut that manages to be many things at once. It’s a story about a girl trying to find her place in the world. It’s an examination of the Filipino drug war through a lens that is accessible to readers of all-ages. But, most importantly, it’s a message of hope. Sab’s journey as her faces her fears and races against time is one that’ll doubtless steal your heart, and the hearts of many others as well.
Gail D. Villanueva – author of this stunning novel – was gracious enough to answer some questions about her upcoming book on the blog! In our interview, she talks about Filipino folklores, what her book means to her, what she hopes it means to readers, and more.
Describe your book in five words.
Death superstition upturns kid’s life
I love the legend of the black butterfly, and how you incorporated it into the story. Was the legend of the black butterfly a story you grew up on as well? What other stories/lore did you grow up on?
For sure. My grandmother was the one who first told me about it when I was a kid. The irony though, is that she didn’t believe in it but I certainly did. I’ve seen the black butterfly when my friend died, and when my grandmother herself died. That’s the main reason why the black butterfly in my story is much more magical—the superstition is just way too real for me.
There are so many folklores in the Filipino culture. Like, our everyday lives get governed by them. This is particularly prominent in the provincial areas, where the lines between magic and science often get blurred. For example, during my recent trip to the province of Bulusan, our travel guide made us put citrus leaves under the waistbands of our shorts. The reason for this, he said, was to repel forest beings who might find us interesting. We gladly accepted his advice. After all, what did we have to lose for following it? And to be honest, I was genuinely afraid a forest being would find me interesting.
What does this book mean to you?
My Fate According to the Butterfly is the book I needed as a child. You see, there are very, very few books that feature a Filipino protagonist front and center. We’re usually delegated as the sidekick, or a background character to help further the plot. That’s why I’ve always wanted to publish a very Filipino book with a very Filipino character. I’m glad I’ve been given the opportunity to do so.
What do you hope this book means to readers?
For one, I hope it becomes a mirror to anyone who needs it. To grow up seeing yourself in story you read is very empowering—it tells you that you can be anything you want to be. At the same time, I want this book to be a window to others who aren’t like me or my character Sab. Because getting the front-row seat to a culture different from yours can definitely help build empathy.
I love how you integrated heavy issues into the book so seamlessly, but kept the tone light throughout. Did you know from when you started writing this book that you wanted to touch on these issues, or did you decide as you wrote it?
Well, I definitely had the issues surrounding the Philippines’ anti-illegal drug campaign in mind when I wrote the book. This is part of the reality I live in, so I really couldn’t not include it in the story. There were only two things that emerged unplanned—the topic of colorism, and the journey of recovery. The relationship of Sab and her best friend Pepper (a white American) felt incomplete until I included colorism issues that I myself have (and continue to) grapple with. It just seemed unrealistic not to include the idea behind the multi-million industry of skin whiteners here in the Philippines.
The other “unplanned” topic I included was the journey of recovery. Spoilers aside, the initial drafts of My Fate According to the Butterfly had been very bleak instead of hopeful. The character who is a recovering addict in the story didn’t use to be a recovering addict. They were very flat until this subplot of recovery got integrated in the book and extraneous subplots got dropped. I’m not exaggerating when I say that I literally rewrote half my book during revisions with my editor at Scholastic. It’s been a long and hard process but I’m really happy about how it turned out.
I doubt I’m the only one intrigued by the original draft of My Fate According to the Butterfly.
About My Fate According to the Butterfly
Light and deep, smart and funny, crushing and hopeful all at the same time, My Fate According to the Butterfly will open your eyes to both the world’s potential for magic, and to its harsh realities.
When superstitious Sab sees a giant black butterfly, an omen of death, she knows that she’s doomed! According to legend, she has one week before her fate catches up with her—on her 11th birthday. With her time running out, all she wants is to celebrate her birthday with her entire family. But her sister, Ate Nadine, stopped speaking to their father one year ago, and Sab doesn’t even know why.
If Sab’s going to get Ate Nadine and their father to reconcile, she’ll have to overcome her fears—of her sister’s anger, of leaving the bubble of her sheltered community, of her upcoming doom—and figure out the cause of their rift.
So Sab and her best friend Pepper start spying on Ate Nadine and digging into their family’s past to determine why, exactly, Ate Nadine won’t speak to their father. But Sab’s adventures across Manila reveal truths about her family more difficult—and dangerous—than she ever anticipated.
★ “This immersive novel bursts with life.” — Kirkus, Starred Review
“At once rich in the vibrant culture of the Philippines and universal in its focus on family and forgiveness, My Fate According to the Butterfly is a soaring tale of hope that will be sure to touch the hearts of all young readers.” — Ruth Behar, Pura Belpré Award-winning author of Lucky Broken Girl
“Superstition, family, and friendship are the hallmarks of this remarkable debut. I adore Sab – and readers will, too.” — Erin Entrada Kelly, Newbery Award-winning author of Hello, Universe
“Gail Villanueva’s debut novel captures all the richness of the Philippines, the heart-pounding thrills of a great mystery, and the warmth and wonder of growing up. This is a simply wonderful story that’s filled with magic, intrigue, family secrets, and hope.” — Kate Messner, author of The Seventh Wish and Breakout
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About the Author
Gail D. Villanueva is a Filipino author born and based in the Philippines. She’s also a web designer, an entrepreneur, and a graphic artist. She loves pineapple pizza, seafood, and chocolate, but not in a single dish together (eww). Gail and her husband live in the outskirts of Manila with their dogs, ducks, turtles, cats, and one friendly but lonesome chicken. Her debut novel, My Fate According to the Butterfly, is coming from Scholastic Press on July 30, 2019
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About the Post Author
Surina is an avid reader who spent most of her childhood buried in books, and who hopes to spend more of her life doing the same. She is perpetually tired and likes to spend her (nonexistent) free time complaining to her dog. Some of her favorite books are Aru Shah and the End of Time, Timekeeper, and The Priory of the Orange Tree. You can find her on Twitter and Instagram.