An Island Like You: Stories of the Barrio by Judith Ortiz Cofer

Summary: Gr. 7-12. "Dating is not a concept adults in our barrio really get." The contemporary teenage voices are candid, funny, weary, and irreverent in these stories about immigrant kids caught between their Puerto Rican families and the pull and push of the American dream. The young people hang out on the street in front of the tenement El Building in Paterson, New Jersey, where the radios are always turned full blast to the Spanish station and the thin walls can't hold the dramas of the real-life telenovelas. As in her autobiographical adult collection Silent Dancing (1990), Cofer depicts a diverse neighborhood that's warm, vital, and nurturing, and that can be hell if you don't fit in. Some of the best stories are about those who try to leave. Each piece stands alone with its own inner structure, but the stories also gain from each other, and characters reappear in major and minor roles. The teen narrators sometimes sound too articulate, their metaphors overexplained, but no neat resolutions are offered, and the metaphor can get it just right (the people next door "could be either fighting or dancing"). Between the generations, there is tenderness and anger, sometimes shame. In one story, a teenage girl despises the newcomer just arrived from the island, but to her widowed mother, the hick (jibaro) represents all she's homesick for. Raul Colon's glowing cover captures what's best about this collection: the sense of the individual in the pulsing, crowded street. Hazel Rochman

Themes: Culture, Hybrid Identities, Generational Differences, Individuality, Community

First Sentence:

When I was sent to spend the summer at my grandparents' house in Puerto Rico, I knew it was going to be strange, I just didn't know how strange.

Classroom Implications: Many classrooms have and use W.D.Myer's 145th Street Stories or G. Soto's Baseball in April collection of stories. Ortiz adds to this base of literature and gives a voice to the Puerto Rican communities that she reflects in her writing.


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