Review of Isla to Island

Isla to IslandIsla to Island
by Alexis Castellanos; illus. by the author
Middle School    Atheneum    192 pp.    g
3/22    978-1-5344-6924-2    $21.99
Paper ed.  978-1-5344-6923-5    $12.99
e-book ed.  978-1-5344-6925-9    $9.99

In this mostly wordless historical-fiction graphic novel, Marisol lives with her parents in Habana (according to captions using the Spanish spelling), Cuba. Marisol, who loves her island’s culture and collecting native flowers, lives a happy and charmed life. Then Fidel Castro comes to power, and everything changes. His regime makes the family feel unsafe, and Marisol’s parents send her to New York City as part of Operation Peter Pan. The couple who takes her in does their best to welcome her, but she finds this new place strange, foreign, and colorless; the gray tones of the previously vibrant illustrations reflect Marisol’s emotional state. The language barrier is challenging; school, which she used to like, is a constant source of frustration. Once she finds the school library and rekindles her love of botany, she’s able to acclimate to her new life. As ­Marisol begins to feel joy again, color reappears. While there’s no dialogue, the illustrations incorporate quite a bit of print into the characters’ surroundings—Spanish in Cuba, English in the States—which, when coupled with the striking use of color, powerfully depict the disorienting experience of immigration in a way reminiscent of Shaun Tan’s The Arrival (rev. 11/07). A recipe (“From Marisol’s Kitchen”), reading list, more information about Operation Peter Pan, and an author’s note are appended.

From the March/April 2022 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Jonathan Hunt
Jonathan Hunt is the coordinator of library media services at the San Diego County Office of Education.

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