Sassy romance with a dose of new release alerts and book recommendations.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Review | Another Word for Happy by Agay Llanera

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Growing up, I only encountered two Asian characters in fiction meant for people my age, the goddess Claudia Kishi from The Baby-Sitters Club and Cho Chang from Harry Potter.

Just two.

Pretty sad, I know. It's even sadder if you take into account that neither of them grew up in an environment remotely similar to mine.

I didn't know it then, but I desperately wanted to see myself--or someone like me, at the very least--in the books I was reading. Someone who has relatives who work in places like Saudi Arabia or Dubai to make life better for the people left behind. Someone who understands what it's like to grow up with overly religious Catholic parents/grandparents.

Enter Another Word for Happy by Agay Llanera.

It's about Caleb, a talented pianist with a penchant for colorful bow ties. He's been in the closet since the age of thirteen and has no plans of coming out. Until he meets intense, brokenhearted Franco and falls in love for the first time. But falling doesn't always mean someone will catch you, something Caleb learns in the most painful of ways.

Where do I even begin to explain my utter adoration for this book?

If Caleb were a real person, I’d want to be the cool older sister-ish friend who takes him shopping for bow ties and says wise things to him like, “Cheer up, kid. Heartache always gets better with time.” He totally won my heart the second he binge-watched videos of Franco’s spoken word performances online. A boy after my own heart.

Not that I do stuff like that. Ahem.

It hurt my heart to read about his struggles to fully accept himself. At the same time, though, I was thankful to be given the opportunity to walk around in Caleb’s shoes, to understand what it’s like to be afraid to be judged by people because of who you choose to love.

I think I broke down a bit—a lot, if we’re being honest—when he stood in front of the mirror and called himself all the names he imagined people would call him once he came out of the closet. Give me a minute to collect myself. I’m not okay, you guys. *sniffles*

And the characters! Another Word for Happy was a book populated by flawed and realistic characters. Franco and his self-destruction. Ginny and her ever-changing hair colors. Caleb and the bow ties that match his mood. Even the minor characters were interesting and all added something of value to the story. They all felt like people I could run into at my old university.

Although Caleb’s story is uniquely his own, Another Word for Happy feels like an accurate portrayal of what it’s like to be a seventeen-year-old in the Philippines. Unlike in other countries, most of us go to college in the same city we grew up in. This basically means we live with our parents beyond the age of eighteen. We’re still subjected to our parents’ coddling and strict rules at a time when we begin to feel like full-fledged adults. It’s something my friends and I personally experienced, and I was so glad to read about it for the first time in Another Word for Happy.

Filipino teenagers seriously need to read this book, even just for the sadly rare pleasure of seeing themselves reflected in it.

I would totally give Another Word for Happy ten stars out of five. It’s like that long-term boyfriend who can make you cry until you pass out at 2 A.M. but shows up the next day with a bouquet made of multi-colored roses and a poem he wrote for you. It hurts, but you know you’re not letting go. More please, Agay Llanera?

1 comment

  1. "...the goddess Claudia Kishi from The Baby-Sitters Club and Cho Chang from Harry Potter."

    A BSC member~ and a Potterhead?? Clarisse, you are my new best friend!

    Not reading to the end of this review because I haven't read AWFH yet. But I will get back to this and see if we have the same feels~ :)

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