Book: How I Paid for College

"How I Paid for College"

It’s 1983 in Wallingford, New Jersey, a sleepy bedroom community outside Manhattan. Seventeen-year-old Edward Zanni, a feckless Ferris Bueller type, is Peter Panning his way through a carefree summer of magic and mischief. The fun comes to a halt, however, when Edward’s father remarries and refuses to pay for Edward to study acting at Julliard. So Edward turns to his misfit friends to help him steal the tuition money from his father. Disguising themselves as nuns and priests, Edward and his friends merrily scheme their way through embezzlement, money laundering, identity theft, forgery, and blackmail. But along the way, Edward also learns the value of friendship, hard work, and how you’re not really a man until you can beat up your father–metaphorically, that is.

How can you not pick up a book with a subtitle saying “a Novel of Sex, Theft, Friendship, and Musical Theater?” The moment I laid eyes on the book, I knew I was going to pick it up, buy it, and love it.

And I did all three.

Edward Zanni is as zany as a character who loves musical theater can get. And although he can be a bit much… Okay, a lot much… sometimes, his character is still vulnerable enough that you can’t help but root for him. Which, I feel, is very important when writing a very flawed protagonist. (I’m looking at you, Sutter Feely.)

That said, I don’t think I would have liked this book as much as I did if it weren’t for the ensemble. Edward is surrounded by an amazing group of supporting characters who make his misadventures fun and never cringe-worthy. From the vivacious Paula who, surprisingly, is the most scrupulous of their merry band, to Kelly who is just full of surprises; from Doug, the jock who keeps breaking stereotype, to Natie, the budding criminal mastermind. And Ziba. The most understated character who underlines the exact reason why this book is different from all the other young adult coming-of-age novels that are out right now.

How I Paid for College doesn’t hold back from the fears, the mistakes, the fuck-ups, and the sexual confusion of teenage years. They’re all here, and they’re all presented without fanfare or big build-ups to epiphany. The novel doesn’t rely on the formula of what a coming-of-age novel is supposed to be, because real life doesn’t follow any guidelines–so when we hit the emotional beats? They’re all the more relatable.

But what I love most about the novel is how it doesn’t try to make readers cry. Throughout the heartaches and the hardships, Edward Zanni remains true to the character he’s associated with: the Ferris Bueller type mentioned in the book blurb. He cannot be unhappy. He cannot be caught crying. So when it does finally happen, he’s experiencing a breakthrough that is also shared with the viewers.

It feels earned.

And then, although already implausible, the novel grants what anyone living in a musical world needs in their stories: an outrageous happy ending. And yet it works. And it’s the perfect end to the whole affair.

And now I can’t help but rave about the novel. It’s definitely something anyone who loves the world of theater, and who has been a part of theater, will enjoy. Marc Acito wrote a gem of a story that’s truly entertaining and, although set in the 80s, still relevant.

Now, if only he had done the same for Allegiance

Book: Una & Miguel

 

"Una & Miguel"

Una and Miguel are total opposites! He’s the village heartthrob, part of the good-looking ‘in’ crowd while Una is popular for the wrong reasons. She writes songs, plays the harmonica, wears a hemp anklet, and has equally eccentric friends–not at all the type of girl Miguel and his friends go for. They call her and her friends outcasts.

For these two, love is truly a long shot. But when they’re forced to work together as punishment for a prank-gone-wrong, they find that falling in love might not be impossible after all. Will opposites attract? Or will they repel?

I have a few questions of my own to add: Why was this book reprinted? Was there a serious need for a young adult romance novella back in 2012? And why did Adarna House think to reprint this particular title? Because, honestly speaking, Una & Miguel is not a very likeable book.

My main problem with the book, I think, lies with the fact that it isn’t timeless. The story of Una & Miguel feels very dated, even though the author updated the story with so many 2011/2012 pop culture references. And for a book with a universal theme of love and acceptance, feeling dated is quite the feat–and not in a good way.

Then there’s our main couple: we never get to know Una & Miguel enough to actually root for them. And during the time where we’re supposed to empathize with them, we don’t. I, personally, found it very hard to root for either one of the protagonists because they were so damn unlikeable. Both are hypocrites, wanting the best of both worlds–standing out and still being accepted. Still being popular.

And that sealed the book’s fate with me. I didn’t care for the characters, so I didn’t care how their story unfolded. And, if you read the book, it feels like the author doesn’t care all that much either. Because as soon as Una and Miguel admit their feelings for each other, the story ends.

We already know that story. So many books have written that story. What we want to know is what happens next, and what happens despite. Eleanor & Park told us why the boy straddling the line between being ‘in’ and being an outcast cannot be with the girl from the wrong side of the tracks. And yet it gave us a story worth falling for. Worth crying about. Alex Sanchez’s Getting It had a third non-love interest character play up the conflict about a guy trying to get the girl of his dreams. Heck, Tall Story was able to tell the same story better, and it was a story about siblings, and not a love story ripe with conflict.

So, once again, I ask: why reprint Una & Miguel?

I’m not trying to be a book snob. I love that local publishers are actually publishing books again. But why not push the boundaries? Go ahead, sell romance. But give us something new. Something we can proud of. Something that will say, hey, Filipinos can write fiction that’s just as good as the international titles–if not better.

So let’s quit with the Una & Miguels, the She’s Dating the Gangsters, and the Every Girl’s Guides. Let’s have more of the Roles, and Vince’s Life, and After Edens. Please.

Book: Bakemono High 2

"Bakemono High 2"

Love is in the air at Bakemono High: from love potions to puppy love, this one has it all! COntinuing from the pages of K-Zone Magazine, these are the adventures of Max, Chuck, and Amy, best friends who are too ghoul for school!

If you’re in need for a dose of cute, then you’re in luck–because Bakemono High continues to deliver that in spades. In the title’s second independent collection, creator Elbert Or tackles the intricacies of love…in the high school age. I would argue that the characters sometimes read as grade schoolers, but who knows? Maybe they are. Just because a school is called Blah-blah “High,” it doesn’t automatically mean that all students there are high school students, right?

But I’m getting away from the topic at hand–

Bakemono High delivers what readers continue to expect from the title: light-hearted fun, with a small dose of geekery. And this title, just like the first one, is perfect for casual readers who just want to pass the time in between things to do.

In a perfect world, we can get a longer Bakemono High serial. The characters are way too three-dimensional for them not to have one. But you can’t argue with the winning formula of short and sweet either.

That said, after reading this particular Bakemono High collection, I kinda missed one of Elbert’s older works–the one where he collaborated with Jamie Bautista. Cast. It’s also set in high school, it has romance, and it was one of the best comics serials at the time.

I continue to hold out hope that the Cast characters would be brought to life again. Until then, I’ll content myself with Bakemono High for my dose of the comics-induced warm fuzzies.

Book: Rats Saw God

"Rats Saw God"

For Steve York, life was good. He had a perfect GPA, a tight circle of friends, and a girl he loved. Now he’s flunking, stoned, and brokenhearted. The only way he’ll graduate is if he writes a hundred-page paper explaining how he got from point A to point B. In telling the story, Steve will find his way back to who he wants to be.

People don’t change. Even when writers want them to. And that, I think, is one of the reasons why I really enjoyed reading Rats Saw God…and why I really related to the main character: Steve York.

Steve is an introvert. I wouldn’t want to waste time trying to analyze his psyche, as I’ll probably get him wrong anyway. But this is how I understood his character; he likes staying out of the spotlight because his father was always in one, his whole life. Steve is always expected to be like his father–and he doesn’t want that. Especially after what happens to his parents.

They split up. Saying who’s to blame would be moot, as it isn’t the point. The only thing we need to know here is that Steve doesn’t want to be like his father because of how the split happened, and because of what happened after.

Rats Saw God is a character study of what happens when a person lives out the life he never wanted for himself; the life he fought so hard to not have to live…the life he got nonetheless. And author Rob Thomas, of Veronica Mars fame, writes the story in way that lets the story unfold while we learn just who our character is.

It’s a great example of showing, and not telling.

Admittedly, I was scared that I would be disappointed with Rats Saw God. That’s the main reason I’ve put off reading it for so long. I’ve held Rob Thomas in such high regard since he created my favorite foreign television program of all time–the aforementioned Veronica Mars. And I didn’t want to ruin the image of a brilliant writer if this failed expectations.

But it didn’t. In fact, it’s one of the books where my expectations were met and exceeded. Rats Saw God is a precursor to the career Rob Thomas was carving before Veronica Mars became a reality. A career that is being filled with characters that jump off pages (and screens), characters that are flawed–and are all the more lovable for it. Characters that exist in the real world.

Rats Saw God is a must-read. So if you find it, buy it. Read it.

Here’s what other people are saying about the book:
Overthinking Pop Culture
A Lot Like Dreaming
Endless Bliss

Book: Are We There Yet?

"Are We There Yet?"

Elijah and Danny don’t think they have anything in common except their parents. Danny thinks Elijah is a lazy, slacking, clueless dreamer who doesn’t know how to make a living. Elijah thinks Danny is a workaholic, stuck-up, soulless drone who doesn’t know how to make a life. Yes, they’re brothers.

Then their parents trick them into taking a trip to Italy together. Nine days of escape. Nine days of somewhere else.

Elijah and Danny aren’t sure it’s going to work. Until they each meet a girl–the same girl. Julia. And nothing will ever be the same again.

I didn’t like this book as much as I did the other David Levithan books, but this is still way, way better than Every You, Every Me. So least favorite then? I guess.

What I really liked about Are We There Yet? is its focus on brothers. Which is also the reason why I didn’t like the book as much as I did the other Levithan books. Because I was expecting something more from the brothers’ story lines, and it kind of fell flat for me.

A girl was introduced, widened the rift between brothers, and then they were okay in the end. And then they were better brothers. I call bull.

It doesn’t come left of field though. There is development. Except, most of it happens on the side of the older brother. You can actually see him evolve from being a douche to someone who is trying to be better. The other brother just is. He gets pushed around by plot, and doesn’t become a better character for it. Which is frustrating. Really frustrating.

Are We There Yet? has all the ingredients that make a good book. And I feel like it got squandered because the book had an itinerary it wanted to stick to. And instead of enjoying the journey, we get snapshots of possible moments instead.

So did I like it? Enough to actually try understanding why the book wasn’t better. But not enough for me to recommend it to other people. Still, I’m just one person. See what others have to say about the book:
Hiding in the Stacks
Books and Sensibility
Tower of Books