Flight Behavior (Discussion)

Flight BehaviorDid you all read Flight Behavior this month? If not, you missed out! I chose this month's ABM book club selection because I adore Barbara Kingsolver, and I realized she had a new-ish novel out that I hadn't read yet. 

Quick back story about Barbara Kingsolver: I love many of her books, but one of my very favorites is Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life. In the book, Kingsolver chronicles a year of her and her family's life eating only local food (that they produced or from neighbors). That book inspired me to start a local eating project years ago, which is what I based my very first blog on. So, really, I have to credit Barbara Kingsolver as the person who got me into blogging, which is a big part of what I do for a living today. I realize this is a super random story, but I really think it speaks to the power of good books and reading. It can be life changing. I'm a living example of it. 

Before we begin the discussion, here's a friendly remind that there likely will be SPOILERS! Also, feel free to use one of the following discussion points as a jumping-off point, or bring up your own thoughts. 

1. An obvious easy place to start: the title. What the heck is flight behavior?

Of course flight behavior has a great deal to do with the butterflies and their strange new migration pattern, leading them into the lives of our protagonists. But the other meaning (or maybe there's more?) has to do with Dellarobia. We meet her at the beginning of the book as she is climbing up to a small cabin on their property to commit adultery. And at the end of the novel, the happy ending that we are given is that Dellarobia is leaving her dysfunctional marriage to move into an apartment with her high school pal Dovey and begin her college career. So she, too, changes her regular pattern of life for a different course, like the butterflies. What do they have in common? How do they differ? 

2. Character study, anyone?

We met so many super interesting characters throughout the story: Dellarobia, Cub, Bear, Hester, Ovid, Bobby, and so on. One thing I love about this book is how your perception of a character can change over the course of the story as you learn more about his or her life and the challenges he or she faces.

For example, Hester is a rather unlikable character at first. She seems to be a grumpy mother-in-law and somewhat uncaring grandmother. Although she, in many ways, acts as the matriarch of the family, she doesn't seem to rule with a lot of grace or mercy. For me, Hester seems so opposite of my own mother, so it was hard for me to like her or understand where she was coming from on decisions. But then, toward the very end of the book she reveals that she had to give up a child when she was very young, and that child is now the pastor of her church, and she can't talk about it or tell anyone, as her husband told her long ago he would still marry even though she had a child with another man, as long as they never spoke of it. She likely feels just as trapped and regretful as Dellarobia does in her own marriage. And even if you don't agree with all the decisions she's made through the book or her life, you can't help but realize that her life is SO much more complicated, and painful, than you may have realized.

I also have to say that I just love Ovid Byron. He's so smart, kind-hearted, and passionate. His single-minded passion to the study of monarch butterflies is truly inspiring. I hope I can live as passionate a life as he does. It's inspiring, don't you think?

3. I would do this book an injustice if we didn't discuss its environmental themes. 

What did you think of how Ovid's world (science, upper or middle class, educated) and the world surrounding Dellarobia (religious, poverty, undereducated due to less opportunity) view the events that surround the butterflies? Dellarobia's town views their appearance as sort of a miracle, possibly sent from God, while Ovid views their fluctuating migratory patterns as a sign of the overall environmental crisis that our world is facing. Many of Dellarobia's family and community members view global warming as a myth, while Ovid is alarmed that anyone would ignore all the evidence to the contrary. Do you think this is fair? Have you seen this kind of issue come up in your community?

I also LOVED the scene when Ovid is interviewed for the news. I think it's meant to be a somewhat funny moment in the book, but do you also think it sheds light on something a little broken in news media (focusing on the wrong issues or emphasizing sensationalism over facts)?

This isn't a discussion point, per say, but I now REALLY want to see a monarch nesting ground someday. It sounds just amazing!

Let us know your thoughts on the book in the comments below. And don't forget to pick up your copy of Middlesex, as we'll be discussing this book with Danielle in September. xo. Emma

  • Finishing this one a bit late, but wanted to add one more thought to this interesting conversation: was anyone else moved by the metaphors around the theme of losing a child?

    To me, Dellaborabia’s journey and the arrival of the monarchs was as much about her need to move away from her dysfunctional marriage as it was about making peace with an event that happened years past, and had a traumatizing effect on her: the loss of her first child. Does anyone think she may have been in denial, or simply refused to face her feelings about the child, and the fact that it propelled her into a marriage she didn’t want?

    The latter part of the book brought the theme to life. The scenes in which Dellarobia is so determined to save the baby lamb, and then explains to her son that one of the butterflies, these souls of dead children, is “one of ours,” brought me close to tears.

    Thanks again for a great book choice, Emma!

  • I really appreciate that you chose this book for your club and hope that it will inspire many of your readers to give it a try. Climate change is one of the most important issues we are dealing with in the world today, and so many people still dismiss it, which baffles me. This book explores the subject in a way that is accessible to everyone, and that is a triumph. I think that your readers are probably part of the demographic that can make the most impact if they put their minds to it–good choice!

  • I guess I’m the lone dissenter (there has to be one, right?)! I generally really enjoy Kingsolver books, but this one wasn’t great for me. I hope that doesn’t put the book lovers off!

    I enjoyed this book and it had some pretty great character development. I expect a certain amount of environmental preachiness from Kingsolver books but it did get on my nerves a bit more than usual in this book. I felt some of the conversations between Ovid and Dellarobia were tiresome and didn’t contribute to the story much (or at all in some cases), so they felt tedious. Too much overexplaning (1st the science lingo, then the country break down) of ecosystem or climate change topics that are not new ideas to me (and most of the readership? ie, preaching to the choir).

    I liked the character of Dellarobia but something always felt off. She had a lot of contradictory behaviors. She was an attentive and understanding mother, yet judgmental of her community. She was articulate and worldly yet paralyzed with contempt and indecision. It is believable; there are plenty of people who can analyze situations without the ability to be introspective. But it didn’t lend to me accepting her choices and journey as a character.

    In the end, I liked the book but didn’t love it. I was unmoved by the ending and didn’t feel like we truly went anywhere or had the kind of growth I was looking for. I know I was supposed to be happy that Dellarobia made a decision to change the direction of her life, but it was a bit sudden. All the character development just stopped. Hester was actually a favorite character of mine simply because there was so much to her. What happened with that growth/knowledge? When did Cub and Dellarobia make their decision and what did that look like? What was all that build up with Ovid and then he vanished the story without a word? A little too much detail on butterfly breeding and thrift store shopping and not enough flushing out of the ending for my taste. Good book, just not great.

  • I just finished reading the book (I’ll share all of my thoughts on my blog on Tuesday, Sept. 9). I’m so happy to be caught up again!

    1) Not to be a man-hater or anything, but I think it’s important to note how Dellarobia changes her life from one that is mostly focused around chasing and being supportive and supported by a man (being Cub’s wife, living in a home provided by Cub’s parents and nearly falling into the same path with the cable guy) to a life where she pursues her own interests and can take care of herself.
    2) I really enjoyed reading about Preston and him becoming a sponge for nature information and seeing how Dr. Byron’s visit seemed to really impact him. It made me hopeful that Preston would continue to enjoy animals and grow up to be a veterinarian or a scientist and break out of the cycle of poverty.
    3) I tend to favor science, so like Dr. Byron I have a hard time figuring out how people can dismiss scientific evidence. I like that this book brings attention to environmental issues- something I fell like more people should pay attention to rather than dismiss.

  • Ok I’m JUST now finishing and jumping in! Better late than never?
    2. I think Hester was the most surprising. BUT because her flaw wasn’t revealed until the end it was still hard to find sympathy for her. Certainly I feel awful for her, but it came SO late in the book!
    I loved D and her total humanity. She was stuck in a life she committed to. So many people are. They make a commitment and waste their ONE life living it out. Its such a hard choice to live that way…and an even harder choice to move on and lose everything you know. I love that at the end she took that leap of faith and moved on with her life.
    3. I loved the environmental issues. I think we all roll our eyes at “global warming” but when its presented in a more dire matter, you can’t roll your eyes. You can’t stop thinking about it. I consider myself environmentally conscious and very mindful, but I think the media blew global warming up a few years ago and everyone is “over it” now. Sad.

  • I LOVED this book! I want there to be another book about the same people but set ten years later. 🙂
    My favorite part is how Dellarobia discusses her wants, needs, temptations, insecurities, and such. She talks herself through things, fights through discouragement and embarrassment to learn new things. It made me feel better about myself. Beyond all of that it’s a really great story. 🙂

  • Courtney,

    If you really enjoyed Flight Behavior try Prodigal Summer. I read it before Poisonwood Bible and loved it.

  • What a great book! It took about 50 pages of reading to really get into the story, I think it was right when we met Ovid that I started really getting pulled into the story.

    First off, I loved the way Kingston told a fictional story about the migration pattern of butterflies, which are being routed to more Northern parts of US. Although the reality of climate change has started to rear its ugly head, it hasn’t gotten so bad as butterflies camping out in the Appalachia. Although, when I mentioned this book to my fiance, he told me about a recent NPR broadcast that was discussing the current migration patterns of butterflies and the real reality is that their migrations have changed! It’s really just a matter of time when their whole migration changes up completely….so long as society turns a blind eye to the problem at hand. Okay, I could rant all day about climate change…so end rant.

    Second, I really enjoyed the common threaded theme of religion and science sharing a common place. I mean, I grew up in a religious home. We believed that the Earth was God’s gift to us. So, why not make it the best place possible? Don’t litter, be conscious of pollutants, conserve water…etc. We only have one planet, so why squander it? Bobby’s sermons seemed relevant to that. And I loved the mediation session Bobby did with Hester and Bear! It was probably the best part of the book for me. And I could finally start liking Hester from that point of the book.

  • Excellent point, and it’s great to hear from someone in this industry! Always a valuable perspective.


  • The media scenes were very interesting to me, as a journalist. I couldn’t believe that the reporters refused to talk to Ovid–and though Kingsolver implies this is representative of the whole industry, I think that’s false. Good reporters want to find the real story and share it with their audience. A situation like the monarchs in TN would have warranted national news, had it been real.

  • Yes, I think Kingsolver did a great job illustrating her opinion of our current news media in this fictional work. I love those scenes, they are so funny! Everyone can agree that news media is so valuable but some of the current trends really distort and take away from the facts sometimes. I understand that news has to be a business, in that they must make money in order to pay staff members and have office space to work out of etc. so they have to draw large audiences and utilizes ads and all that. But, they also have a kind of duty to fact-check and report accurately, which isn’t always the most interesting thing so it can make it hard to compete. Anyway, I don’t work in that industry but I can see that challenges. But I love Kingsolver pointing out some of the issues/problems that industry currently faces.


  • I love your book club, you always pick such interesting reads. I still have to read this book, but I’ve got so many review copies at the moment I haven’t read any of my own books in a very long time…

  • I loved this book, I read it about a year ago when it first came out and I am so glad I can finally discuss. Kingsolver did a great job of creating a fictional climatic scenario that mimics various attitudes we see today. Many environmental phenomena can be seen as miricals and disasters depending on the observer, and it is only fair that Kingsolver show this spectrum. I have made my career in environmental sciences, so naturally I am on the side if Ovid; however, I think it is always important to try to see things from another view point. Dellarobia’s role as a member of the community and her work for Ovid help to illustrate just how complex and personal the issue of climate change really is.

    On another not I also love the media interactions sprinkled throughout the book, Kingsolver clearly shows her dislike of today’s news media. Issues are too often sensationalized, which can often make situations worse and pull attention away from what is really important.

  • I love your point about Dellarobia and Ovid’s relationship and how they sort of represent the two ways of looking at issues like climate change. I really liked reading their conversations around those topics as I think they both came away with a broader perspective.

    Thanks for reading and chiming in!


  • My only reaction to flying will forever be naked panic, but I’m a huge fan of Jeffrey Eugenides, so maybe Middlesex would help a bit!

    Have a lovely weekend and love from Germany,



  • 3. I’m a religious person, so the idea that most of the town saw the butterflies as a miracle wasn’t foreign to me, though I think in general a miracle is supposed to lead to greater faith or a greater sense of purpose, and that mostly only happened to Dellarobia. I think we see flutters of this in other characters (Hester, Cub), but it’s the butterflies and what they bring to her life and consciousness that spur Dellarobia to change her circumstances.

    I also loved the juxtaposition of science and religion, or maybe science (hard facts) and a sort of childlike innocence–I think the relationship between Dellarobia and Ovid is meant to show that they don’t have to exist exclusively. I loved the scene when Ovid first comes to dinner and both Dellarobia and Preston are attempting to wow him with butterfly facts. It’s healthy for us to invite new perspectives every so often, even in the face of some cold realities.

    I really enjoyed this book and all of the research that must have gone into it. I agree–I want to see a nest! And I also want to read The Poisonwood Bible. I’ve tried before, but all the rave reviews can’t be wrong 🙂

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