Goodreads: Isla to Island
Age Category: Middle Grade
When political upheaval comes to Cuba, Marisol must travel to Brooklyn–on her own–to start a new life. But the city seems bleak and harsh compared to her old home. Can Marisol make a place for herself in Brooklyn?
Isla to Island is a poignant graphic novel about feeling lost in a new place. When political unrest occurs in Cuba, Marisol’s parents take advantage of a program that rehomes Cuban children in the United States. Thus, a young Marisol sets out alone to live under the care of a foster couple. Though her foster parents try hard to make her feel comfortable, Marisol naturally misses her home and her family, and struggles to find a place where she belongs. Watching Marisol struggle to understand English, struggle to make friends, and struggle to find anything that seems familiar and beautiful is heart-wrenching. But Alexis Castellanos gives this story a happy ending, ultimately giving the message that happiness can be found anywhere, and love will carry us through.
The graphic novel is wonderfully done, with the images carrying the narrative and the bulk of the (minimal) text occurring in Spanish. Thus, readers get a glimpse of what Marisol is experiencing. Readers who do not understand Spanish have to guess at meanings through the images. And even readers who do know Spanish have to decode most of the book through the actions and facial expressions of the people, since the book is mostly wordless. Just as Marisol has to work to interpret what is happening around her, so do readers.
The images are beautifully done, as well, with colors being used to convey meaning. When Marisol feels sad, her world is gray. But when she is happy, or glimpses an object that makes her happy, the panels or the object appear in color. Color is also used to great effect when Marisol has her first period; the blood leaps off the page in vivid red, highlighting Marisol’s confusion and fear. These types of color signatures guide readers through the book, making meaning more obvious when words do not appear.
Isla to Island is ultimately an emotional journey, one that will draw readers in from the start as they see Marisol’s happy family life slowly crumble under the pressures of political unrest. Her subsequent years in the U.S. are also tinged with a bit of sadness; even as she acclimates to her new life, she remains separated from her parents. But Castellanos does not let her readers despair. Little bits of happiness occur along the way, ultimately leading to an emotionally satisfying ending.