Island of Bones
By Joy Castro
(University of Nebraska Press, Paperback, 9780803271425, 144pp.)
Publication Date: September 2012
What is “identity” when you’re a girl adopted as an infant by a Cuban American family of Jehovah’s Witnesses? The answer isn’t easy. You won’t find it in books. And you certainly won’t find it in the neighborhood. This is just the beginning of Joy Castro’s unmoored life of searching and striving that she’s turned to account with literary alchemy in Island of Bones.
In personal essays that plumb the depths of not-belonging, Castro takes the all-too-raw materials of her adolescence and young adulthood and views them through the prism of time. The result is an exquisitely rendered, richly detailed perspective on a uniquely troubled young life that reflects on the larger questions each of us faces in a world where diversity and singularity are forever at odds. In the experiences of her past—hunger and abuse, flight as a fourteen-year-old runaway, single motherhood, the revelations of her “true” ethnic identity, the suicide of her father—Castro finds the “jagged, smashed place of edges and fragments” that she pieces together to create an island all her own. Hers is a complicated but very real depiction of what it is to “jump class,” to not belong but to find one’s voice in the interstices of identity.
Joy Castro is an associate professor at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln in the Department of English and the Institute for Ethnic Studies. Castro’s first book, The Truth Book: A Memoir (available as a Nebraska Paperback), was named a Book Sense Notable Book by the American Booksellers Association, and her novel, Hell or High Water, was named a National Latino Book Club selection.
"With undeniably strong prose, Castro is equally uncompromising in her anger, intelligence, empathy, and confusion, each essay turning and enriching the one before without repetition or break in rhythm."—Publishers Weekly Starred Review
"Throughout her life, Castro has had to redefine her identity, both to herself and to others. These powerful transformations form the backbone of this slim volume of visceral pieces."—Kirkus
"With each story, Castro gains more depth as her life becomes a rich tapestry of learning, teaching and self-discovery told with prose and deep insight."—Sandy Amazeen, Monsters and Critics
"The essays in Island of Bones piece together an inspiring journey that challenges assumptions, statistics and long-held beliefs that shape the "public narrative" of a U.S. Latina. Indeed, through lives like Castro's, the public narrative expands to include stories of strength, perseverance and, apropos of the author's name, joy."—Rigoberto González, El Paso Times
“The power of these personal narratives resides in Castro’s ability to invest every telling detail of every sorrow and every joy with her piercing attention, until each scene reaches a transcendental clarity. . . . Castro has achieved in these essays what Emily Dickinson called ‘the Truth that must dazzle gradually.’”—Judith Ortiz Cofer, author of Silent Dancing: A Partial Remembrance of a Puerto Rican Childhood
-Judith Ortiz Cofer
“A raw, urgent, necessary voice . . . Joy Castro’s personal essays take you to the precipice of our own social misconceptions. . . . What she champions with conviction in these wrenching essays is the power of the mind’s ‘I’: I observe, I question, I remember, I imagine an alternative life.”—Ilan Stavans, general editor of The Norton Anthology of Latino Literature