by Nicai de Guzman

THE STORY

Like her boyfriend back in the States, 18-year-old Mela Connor is spending Spring Break by the beach. But the difference is she’s spending it on an exotic island in the Philippines, where she’ll spend the next six days finding her estranged mother, of whom she has no memory. In the process, Mela meets her self-appointed tour guide, Paolo, who helps Mela make amends with her past while struggling not to fall in love with her. Read reviews: Goodreads

WHAT I LIKED

This balikbayan tale of love, loss and love found again follows the formula of most love stories but it’s the details that pull you in.  The determined focus on the country’s heritage houses, our famous beach parties and even our local delicacies will make you #ProudToBePinoy.

For a romantic novella, it also strikes the balance of light but not too fluff and sweet but not too cheesy. The characters may be your stereotype romantic story leads but you fall in love with them anyway. And the narrative flows flawlessly. Agay Llanera has a gift for storytelling and describing feelings and scenes with just the right imagery. Gumamela Island may be fictional but it’s described with much detail and enthusiasm that you feel like you want to visit it for yourself.

HOWEVER…

(Spoiler alert! Highlight succeeding text to read.) The ending felt just a tiny bit hurried and may be missing a final confrontation between some of the characters. Some sort of closure between Mela and Sean would have made Mela’s decision to finally move on with Paolo more believable. And how about Paolo’s complete change of heart and habits? Did he really change for the better after he met Mela, even during her months of silence?

The title, This Side of Sunny, is catchy enough to attract even international readers but a title with the word “Gumamela” may be more fitting to the story. “Gumamela Girl,” perhaps? It sounds more baduy but since the story is all about Filipino beauty and pride, then might as well drive the point home.

tl;dr

This Side of Sunny may be short but it has the right kind of sweet. It is a story of self-discovery and the importance of family, as much as it is a story about love. It’s a good, relaxing read that will satisfy your wanderlust and make you long for those cool, summer nights at the beach… and maybe even a summer fling. ☁

Note: I’ve known Ate Agay since I was nine years old, when she was one of our producers in 5 and Up. Back then she was already adept at telling stories to kids and young people which is why I wasn’t surprised to find out that she became a YA novelist. Rest assured, this review was done objectively but I do feel a sense of pride to personally know someone who’s breaking through the local YA scene.
Bookbed received an ebook from the requesting author in exchange for an honest review. Read our Review Policy here.
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