Reviewed by Vincent Dublado for Readers' Favorite
A compelling model of Filipino diasporic literature, Groovy Girl by I.B. Casey Cui is told from the point of view of third grader Isabel "Isa" José as she chronicles the daily rhythms of her family filled with nostalgic longing for the country they have long left behind. As Isa’s family has become part of the Great American Dream, she narrates in a raw, unapologetic, and sometimes naive way how her family navigates their challenges and preoccupations in a foreign land that has adopted them. When one of their family members is diagnosed with colon cancer, Isa is too young to understand and tries to make sense of how this development impacts the entire family, judging from the reaction of each member. Against the backdrop of an advanced society, can a family bonded with pride, love, and respect, but with a penchant for observing age-old ways survive this challenge?
Groovy Girl strongly affected me. I can absolutely identify with young Isa and her sentiments. I.B. Casey Cui captures the evocation of nostalgia and childhood happiness whenever her characters discuss what makes the Philippines their home. She effectively uses Tagalog words and phrases here and there in addressing a mass foreign audience. Isa’s POV dramatizes her growing pains and her family’s predicament gives her an agonistic view of authority. She wants to approximate, if not substitute the things that she does not agree with, such as when she questions why her family often uses the word 'remember' when no one really forgets the place where they grew up. But it’s the family’s daily grind and the threat of death that truly make this tale a study in linguistic and cultural resonance. This is a good read for anyone interested in stories about growing up and living in a foreign land.