Mae Coyiuto’s Chloe and the Kaishao Boys is a young adult (YA) book.
You can easily tell when you see it on the shelf of your favorite bookstore. The cover is bright, colorful, and fun. It’s catchy and if the cover or title piques your curiosity enough that you pick it up to read the back, it confirms it. Yep, this book is definitely YA.
The book follows Chloe Liang, a Filipino-Chinese teenager whose dream of becoming an animator in the United States gets within reach when she is accepted at the University of Southern California. This goes against being the perfect daughter, which means staying in Manila, studying business management, and joining the family company.
Before she goes, her father sets Chloe up on one awkward kaishao (arranged date) after another, intent on finding her the perfect escort for her eighteenth birthday party. She must decide if following her dreams is worth everything — and everyone — she’ll leave behind.
So it’s YA and Chinoy-centric. But take it from me, a 30-something queer male who has no trace of Chinese heritage. I truly enjoyed this book and was emotionally invested in the characters and the story.
Real and relatable characters
Chloe is relatable because who hasn’t struggled with their identity and their place in the world, or the path that they should take after high school? My years as a young adult are behind me but reading this brought me back to my days as a teenager. Of course, I didn’t have to pick between three guys but Chloe’s story of choosing between the path set for her and going after what she wants is real and timeless. The theme is universal but Coyiuto sets this book apart by writing with humor, empathy, and tenderness.
Another thing I enjoyed about Chloe and the Kaishao Boys is that all the characters are well-developed. Chloe is a charming and funny lead, and it was a treat to hear the insights of a Filipino-Chinese teenager in the time we live in. What makes the book extra special is that Coyiuto pays equal attention to all the characters. The supporting characters have their unique personalities and quirks that breathe their stories to life. They have their own stories independent of Chloe and they aren’t just there to support her or help her grow.
A character I particularly enjoyed reading about is Peter, Chloe’s cousin. I was ready to dislike him because he was portrayed as Perfect Peter. You know the type. He’s smart, he’s handsome. Peter can never do anything wrong and everyone loves him. He could easily be the villain but with Coyiuto’s deft hand, Peter emerges as a sympathetic character with a compelling arc.
“The first chapter was the only appearance he made in the whole story in the initial draft. I think it was my editor who was like, ‘You built this person, up, he’s such a big deal in the first chapter. I feel like he should be a bigger part of the story.’ I’m grateful for that because he ended up being one of my favorite characters. He is such a layered character who’s a good person,” Coyiuto told WheninManila.com.
Another character that showcases Coyiuto’s talent in storytelling is Chloe’s father. There is some friction between them about her studying abroad. It’s easy to portray the father as the bad guy who doesn’t want his daughter to pursue her dreams.
“I feel like a lot of stories with Asian parents, they’re kind of painted as the villain or the obstacle to the main character. Here, I wanted to picture it as just two people with different perspectives because they come from different places,” she said. It’s this empathy that made me root for everyone in the book.
Layers of Fil-Chi culture
There are a lot of layers in the Fil-Chi culture and Coyiuto discusses them gently without being heavy-handed or preachy. The book touches on the infamous Great Wall, where some families forbid their children from dating someone who isn’t Chinese. There’s also a moving narrative about being queer in the Chinoy community. I had to ask the author, was it a conscious decision to include social commentary?
She said, “I don’t think I gave a good answer on how to like, how should we solve racism in this community? But then it’s important to just talk about it. Seeing it in a book makes people think more or less, ‘What should we do about this? Or how can we be better than when we’re handling these things?'”
Of course, one writer is not responsible for addressing every social issue. As Coyiuto told me, “I was worried about or kind of scared about addressing these things because I don’t think I’m a spokesperson anyway.” She’s right. She isn’t. But it was a nice touch that enriched the reading experience.
A possible sequel
I truly enjoyed Chloe and the Kaishao Boys and I asked Coyiuto if she’s working on anything now. She’s writing another YA novel set in Manila but this time, she’s focusing on mothers and sisters. Right now, it looks like there aren’t any immediate plans for a sequel for Chloe.
“It wraps up in a, if not happy, then hopeful ending for everyone. I’m worried if I write a sequel, then I have to unravel all of those things. I love all these characters though, so I feel like I might revisit. Maybe when Chloe’s graduating from college, maybe she’s moving. It will be nice to see where they are, maybe years later. I was toying with the idea of maybe from a different character’s point of view.”
Wherever Coyiuto’s pen (or keyboard?) takes her, I surely will follow. I may no longer be a young adult and I don’t have Chinese blood, but her story is universal. I wouldn’t be surprised if you’ll relate to Chloe, too.
Chloe and the Kaishao Boys is available for only P595 (trade paperback) in select National Book Store branches, online at nationalbookstore.com, and on their official stores on Lazada and Shopee.
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