Synopses & Reviews
What is “identity” when youre a girl adopted as an infant by a Cuban American family of Jehovahs Witnesses? The answer isnt easy. You wont find it in books. And you certainly wont find it in the neighborhood. This is just the beginning of Joy Castros unmoored life of searching and striving that shes turned to account with literary alchemy in Island of Bones
In personal essays that plumb the depths of not-belonging, Castro takes the all-too-raw materials of her adolescence and young adulthood and views them through the prism of time. The result is an exquisitely rendered, richly detailed perspective on a uniquely troubled young life that reflects on the larger questions each of us faces in a world where diversity and singularity are forever at odds. In the experiences of her past—hunger and abuse, flight as a fourteen-year-old runaway, single motherhood, the revelations of her “true” ethnic identity, the suicide of her father—Castro finds the “jagged, smashed place of edges and fragments” that she pieces together to create an island all her own. Hers is a complicated but very real depiction of what it is to “jump class,” to not belong but to find ones voice in the interstices of identity.
"With undeniably strong prose, Castro is equally uncompromising in her anger, intelligence, empathy, and confusion, each essay turning and enriching the one before without repetition or break in rhythm."—Publishers Weekly Starred Review
"Throughout her life, Castro has had to redefine her identity, both to herself and to others. These powerful transformations form the backbone of this slim volume of visceral pieces."—Kirkus
"The essays in Island of Bones piece together an inspiring journey that challenges assumptions, statistics and long-held beliefs that shape the "public narrative" of a U.S. Latina. Indeed, through lives like Castro's, the public narrative expands to include stories of strength, perseverance and, apropos of the author's name, joy."—Rigoberto González, El Paso Times
"Written with poetic precision, this small book lives large in memory."—Heather Seggel, ForeWord Reviews
"Each essay in Joy Castro's Island of Bones stands alone yet lends context to the next. By the last page, you're tempted to start reading again, the better to appreciate Castros careful array of "small fragile bones" of memory, insight and cultural history gathered in the course of a complex life."—Peg Sheldrick, Lincoln Journal Star
"[Castro's] book invites us to think not just about who we are, but also about how our deepest aspirations can be more powerful than the boundaries and definitions we impose upon ourselves and others."—Pamela Miller, Star Tribune
Just Breathe Normally opens with a traumatic accident. Shattered perceptions and shards of narrative recount the events, from wreck through recovery and beyond. In lyric prose, the stories spiral back through generations to touch on questions of mortality and family, immigration and migration, legacies intended or inflicted. In the wake of her near-fatal cycling collision, Peggy Shumaker searches for meaning within extremity. Through a long convalescence, she reevaluates her familys past, treating us to a meditation on the meaning of justice and the role of love in the grueling process of healing. Her book, a moving memoir of childhood and family, testifies to the power of collective empathy in the transformations that make and remake us throughout our lives. Shumaker crafts language unlike anyone else, language at once poetic and profound. Her memoir enacts our human desire to understand the fragmented self. We see in practice the power of words to restore what medical science cannot: the fragile human psyche and its immense capacity for forgiveness.
Mary Clearman Blews education began at home, on a remote cattle ranch in Montana. She graduated to a one-room rural school, then escaped, via scholarship, to the University of Montana, where, still in her teens, she met and married her first husband. This Is Not the Ivy League
is her account of what it was to be that girl, and then that woman—pressured by husband and parents to be the conventional wife of the 1950s, persisting in her pursuit of an education, trailed by a reluctant husband and small children through graduate school, and finally entering the job market with a PhD in English only to find a whole new set of pressures and prejudices.
This memoir is Blews behind-the-scenes account of pursuing a career at a time when a womans place in the world was supposed to have limits. It is a story of both the narrowing perspective of the social norm and the ever-expanding possibilities of a woman who refuses to be told what she can and cannot be.
About the Author
Mary Clearman Blew is the author of the acclaimed essay collection All But the Waltz and the memoir Balsamroot. She is the editor of When Montana and I Were Young: A Memoir of a Frontier Childhood, available in a Bison Books edition. Her most recent novel, Jackalope Dreams, is also available in a Bison Books edition. She is a professor of English at the University of Idaho and has twice won the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Award, once in fiction and once in nonfiction. She is also the winner of a Western Heritage Award and the Western Literature Associations Distinguished Achievement Award.