It occurred to me the other day that I hadn’t written a review for a romance novel in a while – which is remiss of me, admittedly, because I’ve recently read two of the most amazing romance books ever. Both of them are #romanceclass books that were published this year, and I was lucky enough to be able to receive e-ARCs from the authors.
Confession time: these reviews were due ages ago. I have no excuse, except for the usual – real life, work, yadda yadda. But hopefully this post makes up for the lateness, because it’s mostly just gushing about how much I loved these two novels!
Title: Flipping the Script
Author: Danice Mae P. Sison
Genre: Romance, Contemporary, Young Adult
Miri dela Merced’s film director grandfather and Pabs Paglinauan’s studio head grandmother had a huge falling out that ended Lolo Ikong’s career. At seventeen, Miri finds herself in the same summer film internship program as the down-to-earth film studio heir Pabs, whom she’s decided to automatically write off, just because of his lineage. As Miri gets a crash course in her expectations vs the reality of what’s it like to work on a real movie, her true feelings for Pabs become harder and harder to ignore. In between attending outdoor screenings of classic Pinoy movies and battling monster production assistants together, can flipping the script on a decades-old grudge be only a few sequences away?
Trigger warnings: Alcohol consumption from a minor, descriptions of hangovers and vomiting
THIS WAS THE CUTEST BOOK I’VE EVER READ Y’ALL. SERIOUSLY.
I love reading teen romances. Especially diverse teen romances! The additional aspect of different cultures, norms, and experiences that add to the usual “Character A meets Character B, shenanigans ensue and they fall in love” make the story so much more interesting. And the additional aspect that this story has for us is none other than the Philippine film-making industry! (Which, by the way, is an industry I’ve been super interested in ever since watching Heneral Luna and Goyo: Ang Batang Heneral – both of which are excellent movies – they’re on Netflix, so go on and see them!).
This novella, the second in Romanceclass’s Flicker imprint, is essentially a modern-day teen Filipino Romeo and Juliet set in a film studio. Miri dela Merced and Pabs Paglinauan’s families are sworn enemies after Miri’s grandfather, a once-famous film director, has a falling out with Pabs’ grandmother, a rich and famous studio head. The falling out ends Miri’s Lolo Ikong’s career, which drives Miri to pursue a career in filmmaking herself, as well as swearing off interactions with any Paglinauan ever.
Of course considering that both Miri and Pabs follow in their family’s footsteps and want to become fillmakers, they end up part of the same film internship. Knowing how the Paglinauan family has screwed over her grandfather, Miri decides to keep her distance and treat Pabs as coldly as she can.
One of the things I loved the most about this book is that is an ACTUAL hate-to-love relationship!!!! I haven’t read many books that did the hate-to-love trope really well. Usually, the reason for the hate between the main character and the love interest is forced and unrealistic. But this hate is real, rooted in something that could actually, legitimately happen. The direction this story went in took an old, tired trope and infused it with something young, fresh, and brand new.
Another thing I loved about this book is how it is essentially Miri’s learning path. This journey is twofold: first, she learns what it’s actually like to be on a film set, and how high the ladder she’ll have to climb to become a filmmaker really is; second, she realizes that Pabs is not necessarily is his family, and that holding on to senseless grudges only really hurts her in the end. In true tita-like fashion, I felt proud and overjoyed seeing Miri grow from the clueless girl she was at the beginning of the book into a young woman self-assuredly taking her first steps into the world of the film industry.
Finally, Pabs and Miri’s romance was just the right amount of slow-burn and tooth-aching sweetness. It took me back to my own days as a teenager and falling in love for the first time with a boy I originally thought was all wrong for me. If you’re looking for a shot of nostalgia, definitely pick this book up.
Title: You, Me, U.S.
Author: Brij Bautista
Genre: Romance, Contemporary, Adult, Sapphic Romance
Best friends Jo and Liza are as opposite as night and day. Sex worker Jo swears by the worry-free, one-day-at-a-time dance through life. Sales clerk Liza has big plans for her family’s future, and there is nothing bigger than a one-way trip to the U.S. But an almost-kiss, a sex dare, and news of Liza’s engagement to her American boyfriend unveil feelings Jo and Liza never thought they had. Deciding between staying together and drifting apart puts Liza’s best-laid plans and Jo’s laidback life in jeopardy.
When love clashes with lifelong ambitions and family expectations, someone has to give in.
Question is: who?
Trigger warnings: Sex work, dehumanization of sex workers
THIS IS THE WOKE FILIPINO ROMANCE BOOK Y’ALL NEED IN YOUR LIFE BOOTS THE HOUSE DOWN.
There are so many discussions this book could start off: the fetishization of Asian women by white men; the sex industry and the dehumanization and abuse of those who work in it; the issue of contractualization or “endo”; the harassment of women. Brij Bautista really hits all the spots with this book, which is simultaneously a hard-hitting social commentary and an ultra-sweet romance.
Jo’s origin story is quite common in the urban poor areas of Manila. She came to the city looking for fame and fortune as a singer, only to fall into prostitution when no other work materialized. Sex work is fun, interesting, and easy money for wild and carefree Jo, who doesn’t believe in love or ‘The One’.
Liza is almost the exact opposite. A victim of supermarkets and department stores’ “endo” schemes (look it up, it’s a horrible practice that violates a metric shit ton of labor laws – and is also why I am SOOOO ANGRY with Fil-Ams who equate their Filipino-ness with liking Jollibee), Liza has always dreamt of marrying an American and being able to bring her family to the U.S.
Despite their differences, Liza and Jo are the best of friends. That all changes after an almost-kiss that leaves both their feelings in shambles. An added complication is the fact that Liza’s American boyfriend, Chris, has finally popped the question, promising to bring Liza and her whole family to the U.S. with them when they get married.
Gosh, you guys. I don’t even know where to start my review for this book. But it was just so wonderful that it honestly deserves my best effort, so here we go!
The relationship between Jo and Liza just felt so natural, and the chemistry was perfect. Best friends to lovers is my FAVORITE TROPE EVER, and Brij Bautista did it beautifully. I especially loved the whole self-searching journey Jo goes on towards the end of the book before she decides if she really wants to get together with Liza or not. It’s so in keeping with her cynical character that suddenly realizes her philosophy is wrong and she’s actually capable of love!
Another thing I loved about the romance in this book is the inevitable discussion of sacrificing one’s dreams in favor of your family’s ambitions. This is a common theme in most novels set in the Philippines. In a country where poverty is the norm and people often (misguidedly) decide to rely on their children to bail them out of poverty by becoming rich and/or famous. This is the case for Liza, whose family is relying on her to marry an American in order to get them all to the States. The book doesn’t shy away from discussing the fact that Liza being together with Jo instead of her American fiance essentially means tanking her family’s dreams, not to mention the realization on the part of Liza’s mother that putting this burden solely on Liza isn’t right.
If you’re looking for a compelling read that’s all about finding hope in the most hopeless of situations, finding love when you least expect it, and the eternal compromise between happiness and ambition, this is definitely the romance for you.