Friday, March 20, 2020

How to Make Friends with the Sea

Guerrero, Tanya. How to Make Friends with the Sea
March 31st 2020 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (Byr)
E ARC provided by Netgalley

Pablo parents are divorced, and he hasn't seen his American father for a while, since he is off on his own adventures while Pablo and his Spanish mother have moved from country to country. They have landed in the Philippines, where his mother is working in an animal sanctuary. While Pablo is glad to be in one place for a while, he is not a fan of the Philippines. It's damp, dirty, and far too close to the sea for his liking, although he doesn't want to tell his mother this. Instead, he keeps up with the lessons his tutor gives him, tries to control his environment, and longs to have some friends. When his mother takes in Chiqui, a foster child who has a cleft lip and is not speaking, he is forced to accept many situations he doesn't like. Slowly, he manages to make friends with Happy, a neighbor, as well as Miguel, his mother's boss, and many of his friends. With their help, he starts to overcome his many fears-- of the sea, germs, dogs, and anything outside of his comfort zone-- and to understand their genesis and future. When his mother tells him that Chiqui will be moved to a new family after the surgery for her cleft lip, Pablo must face his fears and finally tell his mother what he needs to have a happier and more successful life.
Strengths: This has some fascinating glimpses into life in the Philippines-- sari sari stores, Jollibee restaurants and food (ube!), tricycles for getting around town, and beach resorts. The inclusion of words and phrases in Tagalog (and the glossary at the back) was a nice touch. Pablo's OCD-like difficulties (which are not given a medical label) are nicely offset by his relationship with Chiqui, and it's good to see parents who are complex and problematic and not just deceased. Other topics, like moving frequently, trying to make friends, and dealing with a parent dating will make this a book to which many students can relate.
Weaknesses: Pablo frequently makes comments about the way of life in the Philippines that are not very complementary. While this is understandable, I would like to see more books like Flint's Ten  or Nwaubani's Buried Beneath the Baobab Tree (BEFORE the main character is kidnapped) that portray the way of life in other countries as different from that in the US but not necessarily bad.
What I really think: I will purchase, but I would really like to see book set in the Philippines or with Filipino characters that are more positive. I have several students with this cultural background who want books about this area of the world, but I wonder when they will notice that everything I hand them shows more problems than anything else. What titles am I missing? All I can think of are Cheng's See You in the Universe, Carl Sagan, Cruz's Everlasting Nora, Hargrave's The Island at the End of Everything, Kelly's The Land of the Forgotten Girls, Torres' Lola: A Ghost Story
Ms. Yingling

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