A memoir of a writer—single, bisexual, mother, feminist—and her thoughts on social injustices, culture, and families.
In the introduction, poet and novelist Castillo (Give It to Me, 2014, etc.) acknowledges that her specific combination of self-descriptors could cause many readers to “come away from this book feeling that my stories have nothing to do with your lives.” Certainly, many readers approach memoirs with the idea of that being a positive aspect—to immerse oneself in the experiences and travails of somebody different, to escape oneself—and the author ably explores the intersections between shared experiences and personal, unique experiences. The details of her forebears' histories serve as keys to unlocking her present. She writes of her struggles with childhood poverty and the many obstacles that her family had to face on a daily basis. The author focuses on her aunt Flora, who, despite hardship—or perhaps because of it—found positivity in all things, displaying a vibrant, extroverted personality. Castillo's mother, on the other hand, was quiet and reserved. “My mother,” writes the author, “from whom no doubt I acquired the somber manner that has so often been misinterpreted as aloofness, was so different from her only sister.” Castillo describes a childhood and young adulthood spent moving among Mexico, Chicago, and elsewhere, pursuing education, love, and a growing sense that writing could provide a way to make sense of her life and the difficulties faced by a nation with many cultures living side by side. It is a high-wire act to bring together a combination of personality characteristics and specific cultural touchstones and make it resonate with a wider readership, but the author handles it well.
There are points when the writing veers from emotional into overly sentimental. However, Castillo succeeds more often than she fails, and her book provides a compassionate look at those crossing points in our shared lives.