AMERICA IS NOT THE HEART
Booklist Reviews 2018 February #1
This raw and lyrical debut novel tells the story of Geronima "Hero" de Vera, a young Filipino woman who in her three short decades has seen more than her fair share of strife. After living through the political upheaval of the Philippines in the 1980s and 1990s, Hero is taken in by her uncle, Pol, and his wife, Paz, in the San Francisco suburbs. She is put in charge of caring for her seven-year-old cousin, Roni, and finds Roni's unconditional, if brash, affection to be the healing power that she needs. Throughout the story, much is learned about Hero's past: her parents' disowning of her, her captivity in a prison camp where she was tortured with cigarette burns and the breaking of her thumbs. Though Hero's new life as an immigrant adjusting to America is complicated, the mundane routines and soulful cast of characters she encounters allow her many-times-broken heart to expand and eventually love. Castillo's direct and urgent voice propels the sprawling epic with impressive skill. This unforgettable family saga is not to be missed. Copyright 2018 Booklist Reviews.
LJ Reviews 2018 February #2
In the 1990s, undocumented immigrant Hero De Vera, disowned by her family for her revolutionary activities, makes her way from the Philippines to Milpitas, CA, seeking refuge with her Aunt Paz, Uncle Pol, and their young daughter, Roni. Paz, a hardworking, exhausted nurse, is the main breadwinner. Pol and Hero were both surgeons in the Philippines. He now has a menial job in the States that barely distracts from his wish to practice medicine again in his home country. Hero's medical career was derailed by the torture she endured in a political prison, where she suffered permanent damage to her hands. Her role in the family, chauffeuring Roni to school and faith healers to cure her extreme eczema, leaves Hero plenty of time for wild partying and a passionate affair with Rosalyn, a makeup expert. This multigenerational family saga teems with endless scenes of exotic foods, multilanguage Philippine dialog, interpersonal clashes, and the ever-present conflicting desire for an adopted country vs. a homeland whose history of chaotic violent politics in the 1980s forced them to flee.
PW Reviews 2018 January #1
Castillo's debut, a contemporary saga of an extended Filipino family, is a wonderful, nonpareil novel. It opens with Paz, a long-suffering nurse from Vigan who, having immigrated to Milpitas, Calif., shoulders much of the responsibility for her entire family. Her husband, Pol, a member of the De Vera family in the Philippines and once a successful surgeon, had to flee due to political turmoil and take a job as a security guard in the U.S. When their niece Hero arrives, they take her in, and she leads the rest of the story. Hero is burdened with a disturbing political past that she silently carries with her as she spends her days driving Paz and Pol's daughter, Roni, to school and to the faith healers that Paz finds to treat Roni's eczema. Both Hero and Pol struggle to define themselves. While Hero cautiously tries out new friends and lovers of all ilks—most notably a makeup artist named Rosalyn—Pol's crisis of identity will send him on a journey with Roni that threatens the tenuous American roots Paz has worked so hard to put down for the family. Castillo uses multiple languages—Tagalog, Pangasinan, Ilocano—and the strangest of tenses, hopping around in time and among her characters' heads; that taking all of these risks pays off is a remarkable feat. The result is a brilliant and intensely moving immigrant tale.