Excerpt from America Is Not the Heart by Elaine Castillo, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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America Is Not the Heart

by Elaine Castillo

America Is Not the Heart by Elaine Castillo X
America Is Not the Heart by Elaine Castillo
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  • First Published:
    Apr 2018, 416 pages
    Paperback:
    Apr 2019, 416 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Dean Muscat
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Excerpt
America Is Not the Heart

After the cake, after the singing, after the offering of presents that would only be opened at home, they kept with tradition for the first dance: Roni and Pol took the floor. The live band was made up of four Filipino men, bakla, all dressed in barong tagalogs. They were jokingly calling themselves Mabuhok Singers. The song they started playing was one Hero recognized from some of the karaoke nights at the restaurant, Jose Mari Chan's Beautiful Girl.

Coooooorrrny, Rosalyn said, seated across from Hero at a table near the back, but the smile on her face was real.

It'd been so long since her seventh birthday; Hero couldn't remember if she, like Roni, had danced with her father alone on some dance floor, or one of the inner courtyards of the De Vera house, to some terrible love song, popular at the time, forgettable forever if not for having been chosen for this moment. Pol had one hand on Roni's shoulder, one hand tucking stray hairs behind her ear, even though earlier in the evening Janelle and Rochelle had made a point of shellacking her ponytail with hairspray, Rochelle covering her eyes to shield her from the mist.

Hero watched Roni throw her arms around her father's waist, settling her face snug against his belly, blissful, not even bothering to do anything more than hug him and sway. She had a thought, then, sudden as a knife between the ribs: for all she knew, Teresa, Eddie and Amihan were dead, while she was still alive. Sitting in a community center hall in Milpitas, watching her cousin turn eight years old. That this could be the actual condition of the world—a world in which there was still corny music, lechon kawali, heavy but passing rain, televised sports, yearly holidays, caring families, requited love—seemed to Hero a joke of such surreal proportions the only conclusion she could make of it in the end was that it wasn't a joke at all; and if it wasn't a joke, and it wasn't a dream, that meant it was just. Real life. Ordinary life.

There was a feeling in Hero's chest she'd felt vaguely before, but had never thought to poke at, knowing instinctively that to let it lie would be better. Now she knew what the feeling was—hate. Just a tiny, tiny hate, humble and missable, heavy as lead, nothing in comparison to the affection she knew she felt for the girl, the everyday devotion she'd been consecrating to her since the moment they met. Just a tiny, tiny hate, circulating through her blood, occasionally reaching the heart, then passing out again. It was that tiny hate that spoke in her when Hero thought to herself what a formidable thing it was, what a terror, really—a girl who was loved from the very beginning.

Then she heard it back, the sound of her own thought, like someone was replaying it through a loudspeaker, lingering on each word, making the playback count. Disgust surged up within her so fast she felt herself dry-heaving, her hand closed in a limp fist on her lap, and when a voice in her head spoke up to admonish her, the voice wasn't her own. Jealous of a kid, donya, really?

The lead singer was crooning, I just knew that I'd love again after a long, long while—

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Excerpted from America Is Not the Heart by Elaine Castillo. Copyright © 2018 by Elaine Castillo. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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