Expected publication: March 13th 2018 by Dial Books
Format read: Finished copy via publisher
So when Lola's teacher asks the students to draw a picture of where their families immigrated from, all the kids are excited. Except Lola. She can't remember The Island—she left when she was just a baby. But with the help of her family and friends, and their memories—joyous, fantastical, heartbreaking, and frightening—Lola's imagination takes her on an extraordinary journey back to The Island. As she draws closer to the heart of her family's story, Lola comes to understand the truth of her abuela's words: “Just because you don't remember a place doesn't mean it's not in you.”
I was first introduced to Díaz's work via Drown as an undergraduate, and I think I just sort of assumed that the beautiful, evocative raw storytelling he had shown in Drown and subsequent works, would have a hard time working in different genres.
(If you're judging me for underestimating a writer's talent - judge away. I'm totally judging myself.)
But in Islandborn, Díaz has written a heartwarming book about finding your place, even if you feel displaced. Lola is asked to write about her home, a place she doesn't remember. What follows is a shared journey told through stories and drawings, with pieces provided by neighbors, friends, even the gruff building superintendent, of their beautiful homeland and the "monster" (code for dictator Rafael Trujillo), who chased them away.
It's one part love letter, one part tribute to the idea a place will never leave you, no matter how far away you might be from it. It's always kept alive through memory and appreciation, and will live within you, even if you've never necessarily been there - something any reader with cultural heritage tied to another land, will likely understand. Díaz concludes his story by letting Lola share her story with her classmates, in a way that shows you don't necessarily have to realistically depict a place, to understand it.
While Díaz's writing might be a little too verbose for younger readers to read on their own - the paragraphs are longer than normal picture books - parents and adults should see it as a good impetus to read with the young readers in their lives.
With breathtaking, vibrant illustrations by Leo Espinosa that bring the island and Lola's current home to life, this is a book that all readers should pick up. Highly recommend, full stop.
About the author and illustrator:
Junot Díaz was born in the Dominican Republic and raised in New Jersey. He is the author of the critically acclaimed Drown; The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, which won the 2008 Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award; and This Is How You Lose Her, a New York Times bestseller and National Book Award finalist. A graduate of Rutgers University, Díaz is currently the fiction editor at Boston Review and the Rudge and Nancy Allen Professor of Writing at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Leo Espinosa is an award-winning illustrator and designer from Bogotá, Colombia, whose work has been featured in The New Yorker, Wired, Esquire, The New York Times, The Atlantic, and more. Leo's illustrations have been recognized by American Illustration, Communication Arts, Pictoplasma, 3x3, and the Society of Illustrators. Leo lives with his family in Salt Lake City, Utah.