Emily's Reviews > An Island Like You: Stories of the Barrio

An Island Like You by Judith Ortiz Cofer
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Feb 22, 2012

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bookshelves: ya, short-stories, multicultural
Read in October, 2000

Lit Log for An Island Like You: Stories of the Barrio
By Judith Ortiz Cofer

It was a relief, a nice change, to read a book of short stories after reading novels. I liked how the stories stood by themselves, yet all intertwined and progressed through time. This leant a sense of continuity to the book. There also seemed to be a common thread running through all the characters. They all seemed to be wondering how they fit into the scheme of things and how to reconcile themselves with conflicting cultures – the culture of the Island, of the barrio, of their family, of their friends, of their school and of themselves. It seemed each culture was pulling each character in several different directions at once. This reminded me of another book of short stories I read a few years ago, Seventeen Syllables. (I can’t remember the author.) That book had many similar themes running through it and was also told by teenagers from the second generation in America, except that the culture was Japanese rather than Puerto Rican or Hispanic.
I think my favorite story in this book was “Arturo’s Flight.” I remember thinking like Arturo when I started high school. I stopped going to church with my parents and “was having doubts of all kinds by then, not just about religion, but about everything. Including myself”(Cofer, p. 34). I love that Arturo finds something to hold on to through literature, through Shakespeare of all writers. I would love to have a student in my class who thinks, and feels and gets things like Arturo seems to by the end - a student who takes words and writing and uses them for him or herself.
Towards the end of the story when Arturo was thinking about Kenny reciting the sonnet in class and said, “I knew what the message was for me… And I’d get to hear Kenny recite the poem for me,” (Cofer, p. 39) I remembered something Maya Angelou said when I heard her speak about two years ago. I don’t remember her exact words, but she said that at one point she had a realization that everything written was written for her and that was the way EVERYONE should look at literature. Everything written was written for you, for you to read, to take what you wanted from it.
Arturo also reminded me a bit of Holden from Catcher in the Rye. (Boy, am I glad I read that book! I’m seeing it all over.) The story of Arturo’s visit with his grandfather was what triggered the connection. I loved the way Arturo’s grandfather talked about words; “I loved words from the beginning of my life… With my heart and soul I knew that I wanted to be around books all of my life” (Cofer, p. 69).
I liked “Beauty Lessons,” too. To me it was a list of all the things kids think about besides school. My students are going to be just like that. Who has time or energy to worry about school when all this other stuff is going on? A classroom is not an isolated entity. Walking through a classroom door does not cleanse a student of all the outside stuff. They carry all that with them – worries, fears, culture, hunger, frustration, and hopefully a little desire to learn something.

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