By Joy Castro
University of Nebraska Press, $16.95, 132 pages
Raised in poverty among Jehovah’s Witnesses who turned their eyes away from the deprivation and abuse in her home, Joy Castro determined early on to find a way out. She did, achieving a PhD and a satisfying life as a wife, mother, and university professor of English and Ethnic Studies.
In Island of Bones, Castro gives us vivid snapshots of her difficult journey from childhood to academic success. These essays move back and forth in time, interspersed with Castro’s meditations on writing and on being a mother, wife, and Latina writer and teacher in a still largely white academic world. She resists easy answers, just as she resists the tempting complacencies of middle-class academic life.
“Over the crib in the tiny apartment, there hung a bullet-holed paper target, the size and dark shape of a man, its heart zone, head zone, perforated where my aim had torn through: thirty-six little rips, no strays, centered on spots that would make a man die.”
Through it all, Castro continues to struggle with questions of identity and membership: do I really belong, and where, and to whom? Who am I, really? Her search for the truth of her own life is given to us in honest, eloquent, and insightful prose. That we are given her story in fragments seems exactly right, for she’s clear: her journey is not yet over.
Reviewed by Daniel Hobbs