Twenty-seven year old Dellarobia Turnbow loves her husband and children, but has one step out the door on her marriage. She believed she was destined for greater things than the rural Appalachian life she lives, but her unexpected pregnancy and subsequent marriage in high school quashed all the dreams she once had. But when Dellarobia comes across the most extraordinary thing in the woods above her house—the unexpected migration of Monarch butterflies—it sets off a chain of events that make Dellarobia reevaluate everything she once thought about herself and her life.
There are high expectations for any Barbara Kingsolver novel, and readers will be pleased with her latest endeavor. Thought-provoking and expertly penned, Kingsolver writes vivid characters, especially with Dellarobia, and readers looking for depth in their books will enjoy this mix of character development, setting, and science.
Flight Behavior is a novel that starts slowly. The reader is introduced to Dellarobia, the book’s narrator, and it’s clear from the first page that she isn’t happy with her life. She believes she’s too smart to live the life she does, wife and mother on an Appalachian farm. At the same time, though, Dellarobia doesn’t think she’s any better than those around her—just different, with hopes and dreams that no one else seems to share or understand. It’s interesting to see these warring impulses within Dellarobia: the increasing conviction that she made a mistake getting married all those years ago dueling with her fierce love for her children. The arrival of the butterflies (and the scientists that follow them) opens a new path for Dellarobia, and with that comes endless possibilities.
Kingsolver embodies the Appalachian mindset in Dellarobia: a group of people, for example, who refuse to believe in climate change because they simply do not have room for it in their worldview. Dellarobia involves herself in the scientists’ work, and it’s so interesting to bear witness to their discussions. Ovid Byron, a handsome etymologist, sees potential in Dellarobia and takes her under his wing, but he’s not the only one doing the teaching. The scientists are also educated by Dellarobia about this foreign world they’ve entered; it’s fascinating to see and understand the differences between the two groups.
The science in Flight Behavior is intriguing, and through it, Kingsolver delivers commentary on climate change. The Monarchs have come to Appalachia, rather than their original roosting place in Mexico, because of environmental disasters closely connected to climate change. The tale is tragic (and visceral, with her descriptions of the dead butterflies), but it’s an important one to read about. Readers will appreciate the larger world that Kingsolver incorporates into this novel; it juxtaposes with (and enables) Dellarobia’s story nicely and adds welcome depth to the story.
Though Flight Behavior takes some time to get going, it’s a novel that’s absolutely worth sticking with. Kingsolver writes beautifully about the highs and lows of life through the fascinating and appealing Dellarobia. There are times when the minutia of Dellarobia’s life might seem tedious, but Kingsolver always brings the story back to her overarching themes and messages. It’s a well-done novel that serves as a great introduction to Kingsolver for her first-time readers.