Published: 29 March 2017
Take a quick tour of the Philippines with six hometown love stories.
Visit Jimenez, Misamis Occidental where a priest might just set you up with a man whose dimples are to die for.
Visit Silay, Negros Occidental and get on a horse alongside hunky, hazel-eyed Negrense royalty.
Visit Kalibo, Aklan and find yourself in the arms of a cute drummer boy who just happens to be your kuya’s BFF.
Visit Hagonoy, Bulacan and spend All Saint’s Day next to a distracting boy who promises to write you a song.
Visit Vigan, Ilocos Sur and meet the hot man you used to bully when he was a shy, chubby boy.
Visit Pundaquit, Zambales and find love in a bronzed fisherman whose eyes hold depths you’ll want to explore.
Rating: 2 Stars
This book brings together six authors to write about hometowns in the Philippines, each with their own take on stories bringing tow young lovers together. A chance Twitter encounter brought this book across my Kindle and today I’m sharing my thoughts on this collection.
Only the Beginning by C.P. Santi
I did not enjoy this story for a few reasons, primary of which is that I couldn’t get into the story. The action didn’t seem to have a clear pace. The characters, especially the main one (Andrea), were confusing. Andrea starts the story objecting to a project, vehemently speaking out against it at a meeting, but this objection seems to slide to the side because someone close to her is actually in charge and gets her a job involved in the project.
The “chapters” were cut off seemingly at random and quite abruptly, another thing that bugged me. The timing was another matter that made the story difficult to process; it jumped from saying a couple days later, a couple days later, etc. It felt weird and like saying dates or even specifying the times would’ve flowed better.
The basis of the story sounded like it could have been really interesting. Gathering the stories of the community, learning things about them, could have been a great way to share details with the reading audience, but I never got that sense of community from this particular story. The romance itself never felt real, either, whether it was because of the jolting nature of the storytelling or because there simply wasn’t enough time to develop the relationship, I’m not sure. In either matter, this was not my favorite story of the collection.
Letters About a Boy by Ines Bautista Yao
Told in a series of letters from Tin-tin to her friend/cousin Annette, this story shared the trait of odd timing with Only the Beginning. Since these are letters, dates would’ve made infinitely more sense rather than “end of summer” or “a few weeks into high school year”.
Tin-tin herself was not a sympathetic character. She came across as a bit whiny and more than a little petulant. She’s pining over a boy, Nicholas, who gives her mixed signals about his interest. Over the years he dates, but never gets over Regina, a girl he was interested in at the beginning. Tin-tin is quoted as saying:
My god, Annette, it’s been so freaking long. Why can’t he get over this girl?
That is a classic pot calling the kettle black situation if I ever heard one. It didn’t help that in the next paragraph she started tearing Regina apart, wondering why Nicholas liked her because Tin-tin doesn’t think she looks like anything spectacular.
I really didn’t like the relationship that “developed” between Tin-tin and Nicholas. She really did end up pining after him all these years, he made excuses for why he didn’t “see” her sooner, and everything wrapped up far too nearly too quickly. They may have know each other for a long time as friends, but that’s different than being in a romantic relationship. These two seem to have skipped several steps in between, making the finale a letdown.
Drummer Boy by Chris Mariano
This was the most visually appealing story of the novel. Taking place during the Ati-atihan Festival, the description of a party in the street, full of bright colors and loud music gave the piece a jubilant air.
I liked the familial relationship between Reina and Dex more so than the romantic one between Reina and Ben. Though brief, I got a real sense of caring from Dex. He was the annoying big brother, sure, but he was also helpful to Reina when he realized that she liked Ben (which he found out when he elbowed his way into their first “date”, but that’s a whole other thing). It was a weird situation to come to terms with in his mind, but he knew it was his sister’s decision, would make her happy, and what he could do was support her (and take her side in any fights she and Ben might have 😉).
While there was still an insta-love feel to the relationship, it didn’t feel quite as strong as some of the other stories. Reina and Ben have loosely known each other 8 years, but their interest is thrown into overdrive at the commencement of this tale. A little drama and it ends at a decent place: not solved, not a huge cliffhanger; just right for a short story.
One Certain Day by Jay E. Tria
I enjoyed the writing at the beginning of this story more than the previous stories and thought that it spoke of a turnaround for the collection as a whole. While it turned out that story’s quality didn’t turn out as well as I’d hoped, the quality of telling it was good enough that I’d considered trying this author again in the future. This story in and of itself could have blossomed into a longer piece, I think, and been a contemporary YA novel. Things felt too rushed, too shoved into a too-small space.
There were some things that didn’t make sense to me, such as Alice’s interest in being an actress being mentioned offhand at one point. She mentions a part she gets called back for, but someone else is up for it so she’s not sure she’ll get this coveted role. Until then I’d had no idea what really spoke to her in terms of interests, other than All Saint’s Day and Son’s writing a song for her.
I’m glad they were able to reconcile their feelings and be friends at the end, even though Alice had hoped it would be different. Alice and Son, close as their are, do seem like they could be best friends. Things may change in the future, they may not, but the note they ended on was a decent one, if not wholly exuberant.
Once Upon a Bully by Georgette S. Gonzales
This story was a bit of a conundrum for me. The writing was decent, the characterization good (even if I didn’t like the characters, the way they were written certainly managed to evoke specific emotions), but there were elements of the tale itself that did not make sense.
Bridgette has spent the last decade of her life somewhere, in stasis, but where? Her family is a bit far flung (Germany, Ontario) and remaining in the Philippines was her choice, though I’m unsure why. She says she’s never lived away from her family, claims to be living alone, but it sounds like the place she’s moved into on page one is an apartment/glorified room in a compound of her aunt’s. Does this really count as living on her own?
This got relegated to the background of my mind when we were introduced to how she treated Miguel, her new neighbor and former childhood classmate, when they were children. It was abominable behavior and made me dislike her for the rest of the story. She seemed to show some guilt, but I have to wonder whether that guilt was tainted by her childhood fear of getting into trouble for torturing a fellow person.
I’m not sure if it was a cultural difference, Miguel’s handling of the bullying. Perhaps a fellow reader could clear this up for me. He says:
…he didn’t hate or dislike her. He was not brought up that way. He tolerated her bullying because his mother told him to never tease girls nor strike back and hurt them.
I’m not sure I could agree fully with his assessment that harboring ill feelings was pointless. Maybe you could move on from someone making your life horrible for months on end as a child, but would you really grow up to fall in love with them? That whole aspect of this story felt disingenuous and had me pulling faces the further I read.
Of course, just because he said there was no reason to be nasty, it meant she was absolved from her bitchiness. Or maybe she was absolved from that but not from apologizing.
This passage further highlighted something that Bridgette interpreted from her interaction with Miguel that I couldn’t understand. I’m “glad” she feels she’s been absolved of her bullying past, but that kind of past speaks to her character. She never really faced consequences for her actions; a slight embarrassment, maybe, but nothing that was anywhere near what she put Miguel through. This goes back to my wondering whether it’s a cultural handling of bullying, but are things different in the Philippines than in the US? Was there any consideration for what bullied children actually go through and what it’s like to see a story in which a bullied child enters a romantic relationship with their tormentor?
Back to the Stars by Agay Llanera
This story was by far my favorite because, while there were some parts that were not as fleshed out as I’d have liked, it felt like there was a good, solid story. There was conflict, happiness, and I could follow along on the action, the most important thing of all.
Leah’s conflict between two love interests had me a bit unsteady at first, but when she and her work group (love interest #1 included) went to her beach house for the weekend, we got a peek at her life growing up. Wency (love interest #2) was there waiting for her, a summer time childhood friend, and we learned more about Leah, about what her hesitation regarding the past really meant for her, what it meant for her future. This story had the most heart of the collection, to me, and the least amount of difficulties.
I had some difficulty enjoying this book because I was out of my depth with the culture and the terms that were being used. I spent a lot of time having to look up terms that, while I could get the general context of, made it difficult to sort out who was related to who, or what their exact relationship was. The constant going to Google kept taking me out of the story, preventing me from really settling in to any one of them.
The stories were about 50/50. Three I liked fairly well, the other three I did not like much at all. With short story collections from different authors, or even from collections by the same author, this kind of thing is bound to happen. The ones I liked, I’d recommend seeing if you can find more from those authors and trying their longer fiction out. At the conclusion of the book is a brief bit on each author, including previous titles.
Also after reading this book, a fun bonus is this quiz that will tell you what your ideal Promdi vacation would be: Promdi Vacation Quiz. My personal result?
Soaking up the summer sun in Pundaquit, Zambales!
I received a copy of this book from Agay Llanera, one of the authors, in exchange for an honest review.