Critical Overview

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Like most of Ortiz Cofer's work, An Island Like You: Stories of the Barrio has been met with both critical and popular success. The collection was awarded the Horn Book Farfare Award and the Hungry Mind Book of Distinction award, as well as listings with Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Readers and Best Books for Young Adults. Hazel Rochman, in her review for Booklist, writes, "The contemporary teenage voices are candid, funny, weary, and irreverent in these stories about immigrant kids caught between their Puerto Rican families and the pull and push of the American dream." In her review for Horn Book Nancy Vasilakis agrees, writing, "The Caribbean flavor of the tales gives them their color and freshness, but the narratives have universal resonance in the vitality, the brashness, the self-centered hopefulness and the angst expressed by the teens."

Sensitivity to voice has been the cornerstone of critique of Ortiz Cofer's work; whether discussing her poetry or her prose, critics have always emphasized its authenticity. Vasilakis writes that "the teenagers [in An Island Like You] speak in characteristic yet very distinct voices and appear in each others' stories the way neighbors step in and out of each others' lives." Rochman asserts that "the teen narrators sometimes sound too articulate, their metaphors overexplained, but no neat resolutions are offered, and the metaphors can get it just right." In Bishop's words, "Cofer's writing is lively, and the characters are memorable ... The voices in these stories ring true, as do the stories themselves."

In his book Dance Between Two Cultures: Latino Caribbean Literature Written in the United States, William Luís discusses Ortiz Cofer in the context of other Puerto Rican authors. He writes that Ortiz Cofer's work "touches upon some of the themes of other [Puerto Rican] writers, but she expresses them from a less marginal perspective, in a language that is more polished and mainstream." He continues that, unlike some other Puerto Rican writers, "she is not preoccupied with the exploitation of the Puerto Rican masses who traveled to the United States, as she is with writing about more personal concerns." In keeping with this view, Bishop writes that the "the adolescents in these stories are often reconciling two cultural traditions, and two languages, but Cofer takes this as a given and focuses on the individuals and their everyday problems and concerns." The consensus is that Ortiz Cofer manages to give authentic voice to the experience of Puerto Rican young people in such a way that her stories hold universal appeal.

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Essays and Criticism