19 Oct Bookbed reviews: ‘Paper Planes Back Home’ by Tara Frejas
BY KB MENIADO
I first saw Paper Planes Back Home by Tara Frejas on Instagram. I remember feeling desperate for a copy. One, that lovely cover. Two, that lovely cover. Yes. I initially didn’t care what the book was about; the superficial book cover judge in me just wanted a copy.
Fortunately, I met Tara herself at the Manila International Book Fair last September, and then, I had a free ticket to ride those paper planes!
With that kind of cover, it was easy to fall into the trap of assuming it would either be fantasy or paranormal. After all, who in the “normal” world can stand on clouds??
What is incredible, though, is that this book is actually about experiences so common to the living: loss and longing. Divided into four parts (or more aptly, stages), which are Arrival I, Bonding, Departure and Arrival II, Paper Planes Back Home weaves the lives of four people—two in a hospital and two in a sort of afterlife—in a story of death, recovery, reunion and, a universal concept we all enjoy, love.
What I liked
This was such a good read! And not just because there are CLOUDS on the cover but it blew me away, flying me to a world where only a few other Filipino novels have ever taken me before.
I know, HUGE WORDS. But with its premise (depicting the in-between of life and death) and execution (using unrequited and forbidden love) that ambitious, Paper Planes Back Home deserves to be read and recommended, especially to hesitant followers of Philippine literature.
Why so, you ask? See here, the setting is at the least exciting place: a hospital. The main characters are in a coma, with their spirits stuck in a place where only paper planes made from thoughts of their loved ones can bring them back to life—an impossible feat to achieve, especially when there are NO thoughts for them. The conflicts are in so many layers – family business, forced marriage, unplanned pregnancy, underachievement—that it can drive away the remainder of hope.
Then you wonder, just as I wondered, “How do you make that work?” Through a talent in storytelling, with help from the power of flashbacks, unpredictability and creative solutions, that’s how.
What could have been done differently
As in all things, Paper Planes Back Home wasn’t perfect. For one, there was this thing about the buqo app (which was totally not the book nor the author’s fault and which we might talk about in a different post), which led to some accessibility and readability issues.
Another was that in the first few chapters, I couldn’t understand where the story was set – was it here in the Philippines? Or was it abroad? If so, why was it not set locally? It could have pave the way for the Filipino culture – the beliefs, the quirks – to be used as reference.
Also, characters-wise, it felt like The United Nations back there, with the nurses seemingly Americans, the other characters Korean, the rest unidentified. Why couldn’t be the people in the story be Filipinos (if they weren’t), which would make it easier for more readers to relate to?
If you’re someone like me who yearns to support Philippine literature and loves beautiful covers and great storytelling, Paper Planes Back Home should be in your library. ☁