Isla to Island

Written by Alexis Castellanos
Review by Elizabeth Caulfield Felt

Isla to Island is a graphic novel about young Marisol. She loves her life in Cuba: her parents, the food, the flowers, and the music. When the revolution occurs, life becomes frightening. In 1961, Marisol’s parents decide to send her to New York City to live with foster parents. The young girl struggles in this new country with a new family, a new school, and a new language to learn. Will Marisol make friends? Will she ever see her parents again?

This is one of the most remarkable books I’ve ever encountered. You don’t so much read the book as experience it. There are few words. In the beginning, in Cuba, there are some dates and captions on photographs, as well as some Spanish words on signs, coming from a radio, a few words on a newspaper. Just enough to establish setting—reading the words is not essential. The same happens with words in English when Marisol moves to America. The story is mostly told through pictures. Cuba is vibrantly colorful. New York is gray—except for the one flower Marisol brought with her. As she meets her foster family, goes to school, walks through the winter streets, everything is gray. Eventually, Marisol discovers the school library. Books are in color. Then food. And plants. Will New York ever be fully in color? Will Marisol ever be truly happy again?

A beautiful and powerful story of being a refugee child, told in a format that anyone, of any age, any culture, and any language, can understand.