2022 Adult All Iowa Reads selection author to read from debut novel, ‘The Butterfly Effect,’ at Prairie Lights

The 2022 Adult All Iowa Reads selection ‘The Butterfly Effect’ is Rachel Mans McKenny’s debut novel. The Omaha author takes the cultural concept of “Midwest niceness” and sets the plot in the Reiman Gardens at Iowa State University for a story about non-conformity and entomology. She will read from the novel at a Prairie Lights event on Oct. 14.


Contributed by Rachel Mans McKenny.

Anaka Sanders, Arts Reporter

Author Rachel Mans McKenny wrote her first book when she was in the fourth grade in a Mead notebook over recess about summer camp.

“I filled up about 90 pages,” McKenny said. “Then I lost it.”

McKenny, originally from Omaha, Nebraska, always knew she wanted to be a writer and pursue it as a career. That, combined with being born and raised in the Midwest, led to the creation of her debut novel, “The Butterfly Effect.”

She will discuss her writing process and reading sections from the book on Oct. 14 at Prairie Lights.

Set in the butterfly house at Reiman Gardens on the Iowa State University campus, the novel tells the journey of a young woman earning her doctoral degree in entomology — the study of insects. While doing research in Costa Rica, she learns that her twin brother has had an aneurysm. Now, coming back home to the Midwest, she must confront the many broken relationships she left behind.

“It’s about the ways that relationships fall apart, and the ways that it takes time and patience to build them back together,” McKenny said.

One of McKenny’s inspirations for the book was the idea of “Midwestern niceness” and especially what that means to young women. “Midwest nice” is the cultural stereotype of being “nice” in the Midwest, often with statewide labels like “Iowa nice” or “Minnesota nice,” exemplified by people who act unusually polite, reserved, or passive aggressive.

Describing herself as “Midwest nice,” McKenny wanted to create a character who doesn’t conform to this polite culture.

Since “The Butterfly Effectwas chosen as the 2022 Adult All Iowa Reads selection, McKenny has had the opportunity over the past year to travel across Iowa to different libraries, book clubs, and bookstores to discuss her novel.

The book was selected for All Iowa Reads by the State Library of Iowa, a board of librarians, and other book professionals. McKenny said she had no idea her book was under consideration for this honor.

“It was a huge surprise to find this out,” McKenny said.

“The Butterfly Effectwas published at the end of 2020, when much of the world was still in quarantine during the COVID-19 pandemic. McKenny participated in over 30 book club meetings across Iowa in the last 10 months. It’s during events like her upcoming Prairie Lights reading when she feels the most moved by people taking the time to read and discuss her book.

“It’s been fun to be able to get out there and meet with readers and find more about the communities they live in, along with more about our wonderful state,” McKenny said.

McKenny said the personal discussions have been her favorite part about being this year’s Adult All Iowa Reads choice. Being in four different book clubs herself, McKenny knows how interesting the conversations can be because every reader interprets a book differently.

Writing an unlikeable, non-conforming lead character, she understands that many people won’t like her book, and she doesn’t want anyone to say that they loved it if they truly did not.

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“It’s been interesting to have discussions with people about what they thought about the trajectory of the book and the things that connected with them and resonated with them,” McKenny said. “Even if they didn’t always agree with my character’s decisions.”

McKenny’s favorite part about writing “The Butterfly Effect” was learning more about entomology. She was able to follow the butterfly house curator at Reiman Gardens and learn more about how they keep the insects there.

“I ended up learning quite a bit, and I think it’s fun to be able to share facts interspersed with fiction,” McKenny said.

Though she can disclose nothing for now, McKenny said she is working on a few projects.

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