Subscribe to The Horn Book

Review of An Island Like You: Stories of the Barrio

coferstar2Judith Ortiz Cofer    An Island Like You: Stories of the Barrio
Older   165 pp.   Kroupa/Orchard Books    4/95
ISBN 0-531-06897-7 $15.95    Library edition ISBN 0-531-08747-6 $15.99

Set in a New Jersey barrio, these twelve short stories feature Puerto Rican teenagers who speak in characteristic yet very distinct voices and appear in each others’ stories the way neighbors step in and out of each others’ lives. The Caribbean flavor of the tales gives them their color and freshness, but the narratives have universal resonance in the vitality, the brashness, the self-centered hopefulness, and the angst expressed by the teens as they tell of friendships formed, romances failed, and worries over work, family, and school. For Arturo, being asked to recite a poem in English class makes him the butt of jokes among the guys in the neighborhood. His despair brings him one night to the steps of the local church, where he meets the elderly janitor whose own life story provides a different, and larger, perspective. In “Catch the Moon” Luis finds no meaning in his job at his father’s junkyard. His carelessness brings about much friction between him and his father until he meets a girl who seems to understand the unspoken loneliness he has felt since his mother’s death. He returns to the yard in search of a hubcap for the girl’s car, and finds satisfaction in the work, which has become a kind of treasure hunt now that “he knew what he was looking for.” For Doris in “The One Who Watches,” getting to know herself means abandoning her fascination for the exciting but troublesome Yolanda and listening, really listening, to the songs her mother sings in her nightclub performances; Doris realizes that many of the words are meant for her. In many of the stories, it is adult authority, speaking firmly and unselfconsciously out of long tradition, that brings the troubled adolescents up short and gives them the opportunity to reconsider and alter the course of events. A milestone in multicultural publishing for children, this collection by the acclaimed author of The Line of the Sun and Silent Dancing: A Partial Remembrance of a Puerto Rican Childhood offers food for thought for all young adults. NANCY VASILAKIS

From the July/August 1995 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Comment Policy:
  1. Be respectful, and do not attack the author, people mentioned in the article, or other commenters. Take on the idea, not the messenger.
  2. Don't use obscene, profane, or vulgar language.
  3. Stay on point. Comments that stray from the topic at hand may be deleted.

We are not able to monitor every comment that comes through (though some comments with links to multiple URLs are held for spam-check moderation by the system). If you see something objectionable, please let us know. Once a comment has been flagged, a staff member will investigate.

We accept clean XHTML in comments, but don't overdo it and please limit the number of links submitted in your comment. For more info, see the full Terms of Use.

Speak Your Mind