Time and again, I would hear teachers and readers complain (including me ;p) that there’s a scarcity in YA Filipino literature. Well, Candy Gourlay gives us something to rave about in her novel called Tall Story.
Tall Story is told through the voices of the siblings, Andi and Bernardo. Andi grew up in London with her parents, while Bernardo grew up in the Philippines with relatives. Their family struggles to bring Bernardo to London so that they could finally be reunited. The alternating chapters between Andi and Bernardo provide a colorful and honest portrayal of their emotions throughout the book.
The story begins with Andi and her family anxiously awaiting the arrival of Bernardo:
I can’t believe I’m minutes away from becoming someone’s little sister.
If he’s tall like Mum says, he’s guaranteed to love Michael Jordan. She says everyone in the Philippines is mad about basketball and I’m Michael Jordan’s biggest fan. And maybe with another teenager in the house, we can listen to normal music instead of selections from Mum and Dad’s pre-Jurassic collection. And now there will be someone else to ignore the bad Dad-jokes that for some reason make Mom go hysterical.
I’m tired of being the Only Child.
But as soon as Andi sets her eyes on Bernardo, all her dreams of normalcy and having a big brother fades. Bernardo wasn’t what she expected. He was pretty much over eight feet tall – Bernardo was a GIANT. He was afflicted with Gigantism.
Back in the small village of San Andres, Montalban in the Philippines, people didn’t find anything wrong with Bernardo’s height. In fact, he was revered in several ways for many believed that he was the reincarnation of the legendary Bernardo Carpio. The people saw him as their savior and refuge – who else would save them from earthquakes?
Bernardo Carpio is one of the most famous figures in Philippine Mythology. He was sort of a local version of Altas. If Atlas carried the world upon his shoulders, Bernardo stood in between two rocks so that he could prevent the mountains from crashing into each other. So what happens when Bernardo gets tired of standing between two mountains? Well, pretty much the same thing when Atlas shrugs – destruction. The entire Montalban would be destroyed by a massive earthquake.
Bernardo carried this burden while living in the Philippines – he wanted to be with his family yet an entire village believed that he held their fate in his hands. He was torn between disappointing his family and the people of his village . And it was in the middle of these conflicting events that his path meets Andi’s.
Meanwhile, Andi struggles with all the adjustments in her life – fitting in a new school and adjusting to the changes in her family’s set up. Amidst her personal struggles, Andi also carried guilt towards Bernardo. Compared to Bernardo’s experiences in the Philippines, she thought she had a pretty good life in London with her parents. Her guilt is displayed towards her mixed feelings of annoyance and sympathy towards Bernardo.
Though the book focuses on a lot of gaps – Andi’s short while Bernardo is tall, the Philippines and London are geographically on opposite ends of the world, the culture and language barriers that exist between two countries, Tall Story tells us that there is a way to close these gaps and that our differences don’t necessarily divide us.
I enjoyed reading this book particularly because it doesn’t try too hard to be anything. It had a refreshing take on magic realism without compromising the sincerity of the characters’ emotions. And the title Tall Story had a nice ring to it since it reminded me of Tall Tales. I definitely recommend this to our English teachers in the Philippines – please do add this in your students’ reading lists! 😀
***This book was shortlisted for LOTS of awards but I have yet to research on this! 😀