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WE BELONG by Cookie  Hiponia Kirkus Star


by Cookie Hiponia

Pub Date: March 30th, 2021
ISBN: 978-0-593-11220-5
Publisher: Dial Books

A Pilipino mother recounts a bedtime story about gods and her own family mythology.

Speaking in free verse, Elsie, mother to young mixed-race girls Stella and Luna (their dad is White), weaves a moving and ethereal story about family, loss, pain, and hope. Beautifully steeped in Pilipino culture and cosmology, the story she tells is that of Mayari, the moon goddess, and how she came to make it her life’s work to reflect light. Her heartfelt narration brings the gods to life. Mayari and her siblings, Apolaki and Tala, believe they have humble beginnings but later learn their father is Bathala Maykapal, or God Creator. Forced to choose between Earth and Heaven, the siblings take only what they can carry and follow their father to Heaven despite their fears. Their fight to belong with the other gods mirrors Elsie’s other tale, that of her family’s tumultuous immigration to the United States from the Philippines during Ferdinand Marcos’ reign amid violent protests and rolling blackouts. Like Mayari, Elsie could bring only so much with her and was forced to leave behind more than her toys—like the yayas, or nannies, who cared for her and the neighborhood she grew up in. Woven together in captivating parallels, Elsie’s and Mayari’s stories (the former in black type and the latter in light blue) reflect the struggle and hardship many immigrants face in search of a new life. Sometimes raw and traumatic, other times hopeful and inspiring, Elsie’s bedtime story rings true, encapsulating the heart of Pilipino culture.

A beautiful and poignant tale of immigration fused with Tagalog myth.

(glossary, songs, afterword) (Verse fiction. 10-14)