Books by Filipino Authors for Young Readers: Background information when reading My Heart Underwater

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My Heart Underwater

by Laurel Fantauzzo

My Heart Underwater by Laurel Fantauzzo X
My Heart Underwater by Laurel Fantauzzo
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  • Published:
    Oct 2020, 320 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Catherine M Andronik
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About this Book

Books by Filipino Authors for Young Readers

This article relates to My Heart Underwater

Print Review

Melissa de la Cruz author photoNot that long ago, it would have been difficult to find many young adult or middle-grade novels featuring a Filipino or Filipino-American protagonist, let alone Filipino settings and customs as we see in My Heart Underwater. Fortunately, that is no longer the case. 

In 2005, Melissa de la Cruz, best known for her Descendants, Alex and Eliza, and Blue Bloods series, published her YA novel Fresh Off the Boat, which follows a 14-year-old Filipina immigrant to the United States as she attempts to navigate an unfamiliar culture. In 2017, de la Cruz covered similar ground in Something in Between, which features a Filipina-American teenager dealing with the complex reality of being undocumented.

Laurel Flores Fantuazzo's My Heart Underwater is just one of many books for young readers by authors of Filipino heritage published in 2020. Many of these books, Fantuazzo's included, draw heavily from Filipino culture and folklore and contain some shade of anti-colonialism, which makes sense given this nation's history. The islands that make up the Philippines were under colonial rule for centuries, first by the Spanish who arrived in 1521 and then by the United States after the Spanish-American War in 1898. The country did not gain its independence until 1946. During American colonization, the Filipinos absorbed the cultural message that white Americans of European descent were in charge, and colorism remains a relevant social issue. In My Heart Underwater, Cory's half-white-American cousin is hired as a model in Manila because of her light skin tone.

In May 2020, the appropriately named Cynthia Salaysay (her last name means "story" in Tagalog) published Private Lessons, about Filipino-American teenager Claire, who becomes the protege of a famous pianist. Chinese-Filipino-American author Rin Chupeco's Wicked as You Wish was also published in May. It revolves around a firebird, a snow queen, and King Arthur's Avalon joining forces with a descendant of Maria Makiling, a character from Filipino folklore. In September, Rokshani Chokshi, who is of Indian and Filipino heritage, published The Silvered Serpents, the sequel to The Gilded Wolves. These are both alternative history mysteries featuring a diverse cast (including a Spanish-Filipino character named Enrique). September also saw the publication of Newbery Medalist Erin Entrada Kelly's Lalani of the Distant Sea, a middle-grade fantasy novel inspired by Filipino folklore.

Filipino-American author Randy Ribay's Patron Saints of Nothing, a National Book Award finalist, came out in paperback in April of 2020. This novel features a Filipino-American teenager traveling to the Philippines to investigate his cousin's murder and reckoning with his own identity in the process.

Janella Angeles is a new Filipino-American author to watch. Her debut young adult fantasy novel Where Dreams Descend was released in August 2020 and has been widely praised by critics. It's the first in a series, and it will be exciting to see more from this emerging talent.

Melissa de la Cruz, courtesy of the author's website

Filed under Reading Lists

This article relates to My Heart Underwater. It first ran in the November 18, 2020 issue of BookBrowse Recommends.

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