Book Review: Si Janus Silang at Ang Tiyanak ng Tabon

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Over the past eight years, students, parents, and teachers have asked me for book recommendations. I would usually be stumped when asked for a YA novel written in Filipino. While there are some that are available in the market, there isn’t much to choose from. With the launch of Edgar Samar’s Si Janus Silang at Ang Tiyanak ng Tabon, I’m given much hope that this will encourage writers (and readers) to explore different themes and genres for young Filipinos.

Online Gaming + Philippine Folklore + Growing Up

The heading above already gives you three good reasons why this book is a must-read. The story opens in what appears to be a crime scene – mysterious and simultaneous deaths were discovered in different computer shops! All victims were playing the latest online role-playing game (RPG) called Terra Anima Legion of Anitos (TALA) in a tournament. Enter Janus Silang. Janus seems to be the only player who escaped death. As he tries to solve the mystery, he soon plunges into a deadly chase with creatures that were, or so he thought, only part of the game makers’ dark imagination.

The World of Anitos

Even if I’m no gamer, I really enjoyed how Samar recreated the world of Philippine Folkore in an online game. Tiyanaks, diwatas, nuno sa punso, sigbins  are some of the creatures you would meet in this novel. As the series continues, I’m excited (and a bit terrified, because some parts of the book did make me look around while reading alone) to meet more of them! And while Philippine folklore has had its fair share of exposure in works like Trese, Skyworld, Tabi Po, Mythology Classthis series gives it a fresh take because Samar was able to weave it into the world of RPG. Get ready to choose your own Bayani-Anito Tandem (BAT)!

Growing Up with Janus Silang

Janus Silang may not fit the typical protagonist mold but I think he represents a good majority of Pinoy teenagers. He has family issues, girl problems, curses on the side, and has had his share of mischief. Just like any adolescent, Janus is still trying to figure out what type of person he could be. In the novel, there are times that Janus comes into terms with this through the choices he makes in the game. Below is an excerpt that describes this perfectly. When asked to choose if his Anito should be a Nuno or Diwata, this is what he thinks:

“Kaya nga nang namimili siya ng Anito, malinaw kay Janus na Nuno ang pipiliin niya. Lalim. Kahit naglalakbay palayo, sa pakungsaan-saan ang BAT, alam niyang hindi laging pagpapalawak ng mundo ang layunin. Minsan, kailangang pumailalim. Minsan, kailangang sumisid…”

What Teachers and Parents Should Know

I guess at this point, it’s pretty clear that I do encourage kids to read this. Well, thinking as a teacher, these might be some points you’d want to consider:

  • I recommend this book for kids in the upper grades or middle years, around age 12 and above.
  • The protagonist curses and has talked about drinking, smoking and other issues that affect teenagers. As adults, reading the book with your children and discussing these issues with them are strongly recommended.
  • This might be good reading for Filipino classes. Themes could revolve around Philippine folklore, history and culture. Students and teachers may also discuss why gaming is so popular among students (I actually find the decision-making factor in RPGs soooo interesting!).
  • The book has very interesting characters and a rich plot – so many possible ideas for post reading activities!

Related Readings

As I mentioned above, there are several Filipino books and comics that talk about Philippine Folkore as well. It would be interesting to compare similarities and differences in the way they were depicted in each type of reading material.

On the other hand, if you’re not familiar with a sigbin or berberoka (because creatures like those are mentioned in the book), you may want to get a copy of this:

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I was able to get a copy of Anvil’s Mga Tambay sa Tabi-Tabi in the Manila International Book Fair a few years ago. This book is such a great find because the artwork is done by Ang Ilustrador ng Kabataan (Ang INK). The book features different kinds of mythological characters and the descriptions are written in English and Filipino. This book served as my reference for some of the creatures that were mentioned in the novel.

What’s Next?

Si Janus Silang at Ang Tiyanak ng Tabon was a good first book for what could possibly be a bestselling series in the Philippines. I’m excited to find out more about the Tiyanak’s true story and all the new characters Janus will meet along the way!

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Get your copies of Si Janus Silang at Ang Tiyanak ng Tabon in bookstores this May! Visit Xi Zuq’s Nook to get more updates about the book and events. 🙂 Support local literature!

 

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