[#RapplerReads] Carving a space for Filipino stories in genre fiction with Isabel Yap’s ‘Never Have I Ever: Stories’

Raven Lingat

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[#RapplerReads] Carving a space for Filipino stories in genre fiction with Isabel Yap’s ‘Never Have I Ever: Stories’
Stories about a Catholic school ghost, a witch falling in love, and figures of Philippine mythology find their home in this collection

Editor’s note: #RapplerReads is a project by the BrandRap team. We earn a commission every time you shop through the affiliate links below.

I’m the type of reader who likes to match what I’m reading with the season. So when I’m feeling blue, I read sad stories. When it’s Christmas, I like to read books set during the holiday season.

When Halloween rolled around, I wanted to start a new book about – you might have guessed it  – ghosts. Scrolling through my Twitter timeline a few days before October 31, I saw some friends talking about a short story set in a haunted Catholic school. I was immediately intrigued.

That short story, as I soon learned, is part of Isabel Yap’s debut collection, Never Have I Ever: Stories. 

On Filipino horror stories

You might be wondering why that short description immediately made me excited. It’s simple: the premise was relatable and something I grew up with. 

I spent most of my childhood in a Catholic school. Because of this, I’m no stranger to campus ghost stories. If you’re a Catholic school kid too, you might agree. There’s just something about these schools and the classic story of a girl haunting a specific area on campus. Most times, it doesn’t even matter if the stories are true. Everyone believed in them anyway.

This idea takes center stage in Isabel Yap’s “Have You Heard the One About Anamaria Marquez?” The short story presents readers with several iterations of the eponymous girl’s story, as told by current students of her school. 

It’s one of the first stories in Yap’s book and an example of how she is able to retell Filipino horror stories in her own way.

I also personally liked “Good Girls,” an introspective look at the life of a manananggal in therapy. After reading the first three stories of the collection, I searched more about the author. Her tweets helped me understand exactly why I immediately liked her stories. 

On genre fiction, made Pinoy

Yap is a Filipino writer living in the US. We’re around the same age, so that may be why we share the same sensibilities. I found myself enjoying the glimpses of her life and writing on her social media. But as I read more of her stories, I realized that more than these similarities, what I found fascinating was her knowledge and mastery of genre fiction. 

Genre fiction, also known as popular fiction, are what we call stories that appeal to more mainstream audiences, are generally plot-driven, and are based on tropes. If you haven’t heard of this term before, here are a few examples of it: romance, mystery, thriller, horror, and fantasy.

In her debut collection, Yap showcases her proficiency in several genres: fantasy with “Good Girls,” science fiction with “Milagroso,” and romance with “A Spell for Foolish Hearts,” among others.

While my personal favorite story is “A Spell for Foolish Hearts” – where a witch living in San Francisco falls in love – another standout is “Milagroso.” 

In this short story, we are introduced to Marty, a native of Lucban, Quezon, employed as a Procurement Manager for a local company that manufactures all kinds of food. In this world, food is made in factories. While synthetic food is one of the beloved tropes of science fiction, Yap takes it to a different direction by juxtaposing it with a Pinoy element in the form of the Pahiyas Festival. Farm-grown food or produce as we know it is a miracle only to be seen in Lucban. Isn’t that fascinating?

At its core, Yap’s Never Have I Ever: Stories is a collection of short stories inspired mostly by Filipino myths, legends, and urban stories, such as traumatic experiences in all-girls schools, a manananggal who goes to therapy, and young victims of the drug war with the underworld deity Mebuyen. 

If you love Filipino mythological characters, want to know more about other mythological characters (like the Japanese kappa), or just want to see new perspectives on genre fiction, you can’t go wrong with this book. I guarantee that there’s something in it for everyone who likes stories. – Rappler.com

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Raven Lingat

Raven Lingat is currently part of the BrandRap content team, where she leads the GoodRap series. You can also find her writing about K-pop and films.