Great Plains Studies, Center for


Date of this Version



Great Plains Quarterly 33:3 (Summer 2013)


© 2013 Center for Great Plains Studies, University of Nebraska


With the lyric vision of a poet, the dramatic tension of a novelist, and the meditative commentary of an essayist, Joy Castro has crafted a remarkable book of linked essays about the multiple border crossings of identity. In the book’s title essay, “Island of Bones,” the narrator ruptures the myths of the mainstream Cuban American narrative (her family immigrated not to Miami after Fidel Castro’s revolution but to Key West in the 1870s; worshiped not in Catholic cathedrals but in the Kingdom Halls of the Jehovah’s Witnesses; earned money not through investments but as “cleaners of other people’s houses, grocery checkers, cops”) and resists the exotic “performance” of a gendered ethnic identity often expected of Latinas. After growing up as the adoptive Latina baby to Cuban American parents and doing graduate work in U.S. Latina literature, Castro’s own identity is ruptured: at age twenty-six she discovers that she isn’t Latina at all. Her birth mother, a midwesterner, is Irish, French, and Swedish. With this revelation, Castro’s identity is “severed.” The essays that follow reveal how a writer’s cultural identity shaped by family, place, trauma, education, and class awareness evokes a literary identity, one that resists stereotypes, that stays true to the “jagged, smashed places of edges and fragments . . . of feeling lost, of perilous freedom.”