A sprawling, soulful debut about three generations of women in one family struggling to balance the promise of the American dream and the unshakeable grip of history.

Chris and Katya of the First Look Club dive into Elaine Castillo’s debut novel—a post-martial law family saga that spans three generations and two countries, one in their search for a home. Read on to know more and for links to their full reviews.

The Filipino and the World

Chris says: Elaine Castillo’s debut novel is a stirring Filipino immigrant story […] that details the struggles of a family living The American Dream. The details possess an intense accuracy of what it’s like to live far from your home country out of necessity, supporting not only your immediate family but also everyone else left behind.

Katya says: Castillo has a great grasp of the subtle nuances that differentiate a Filipino from a Filipino-American, as well as the myriad of ways that Filipinos are connected, even across the oceans. [Her] observations about Filipino and Fil-Am communities in particular, along with their privileges and prejudices, are heart-wrenchingly real; it feels like she has lived each of her characters’ lives, known them intimately, and laid them bare for all of us to see.

A Tale of Two Homes

Chris says: The story jumps to Hero, when she arrives in America to live with Paz and Pol and their daughter Roni, who was named after Hero’s real name Geronima. The narrative shifts from past to present, weaving Hero’s life in Milpitas, California to her previous life in the Philippines. She bears witness to Paz’s hard but mostly muted life in the US, while she tries to understand the new world she’s thrust in.

Katya says: America Is Not the Heart takes the reader from the Philippines to California and back in flashbacks and daydreams. Castillo similarly shifts tenses often, moving back and forth between the past, present, and sometimes even the future. But even though Castillo eschews quotation marks and italics, each part is distinct enough for the reader not to get lost.

The Heart of the Story

Chris says: Beneath the silent fury, the rage against poverty, there lies hope. And this is what makes this novel a uniquely Filipino story, aside from its delightful shifts in language from English to Filipino to Ilocano to Pangasinan. Despite the odds and the hardships, the Filipino resiliency and sense of humor shines through.

Katya says: America Is Not the Heart reels in the reader by promising a story of martial law, but keeps their attention with a well-written family drama that touches on immigration, alienation, superstition, and even queerness. However, despite all the elements in it, the heart of the story is the question, How does a place become a home? How do people make a home for themselves?


America Is Not the Heart by Elaine Castillo will soon be available at Fully Booked. Reserve a copy in advance here.

Chris has written on Wattpad, yellowpads, and notepads. He works as a Systems Administrator by day and a recluse at night. Read his full review here.

Katya has had a torrid romance with fiction for over two decades, and sneaks out in the middle of the day for clandestine rendezvous in cafés. She works in advertising and has four poodles. Read her full review here.

[Thoughts and views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Fully Booked. Then again, we love our authors anyway.]

Keep reading:

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *