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5.0 out of 5 starsA delightful, magical middle grade!
Reviewed in the United States on October 27, 2021
In Sugar and Spite, the main character Jolina, resorts to brewing a batch of a powerful love potion to get a bully off her back, and what follows is a sweet, delightful tale of friendship and the price of magic. Readers will immediately fall in love with furry sidekick Kidlat and will probably want to try making their own non-magical yema balls (there’s a recipe at the back of the book!).
4.0 out of 5 starsA heartwarming and magical, coming of age story!
Reviewed in the United States on April 20, 2021
Sugar and Spite was my first foray into Gail D. Villanueva’s writing, and I can already tell you that it most certainly will not be my last. This was such a heartwarming and magical, coming of age story that I think so many people will be able to relate to regardless of age. Furthermore, this story is unapologetically Filipino. This story does not serve to teach the nuance of Filipino culture but instead allows Filipino children to be seen on page.
Jolina Bagayan and her family recently moved from the big city life of Manila to Isla Pag-ibig. Jolina is constantly reminded that she’s an outsider thanks to Claudine, the daughter of the island’s wealthiest resort owner. When Jolina is the only one not invited to Claudine’s exclusive birthday party, she decides to use her grandfather’s arbularyo magic to create a potion that will force Claudine to be Jolina’s best friend.
I love Jolina’s character. She’s incredibly smart, resourceful, and caring. Jolina is an apprentice to her Lolo, so she can also learn arbularyo magic. She has an incredible dog named Kidlat. It is evident that Jolina is incredibly close to her parents and Lolo. Jolina is not without flaws. Claudine’s constant bullying leaves Jolina anxious and lonely. And while Jolina’s family has always taught her the consequences of magic done against someone’s will, she still creates a potion to force Claudine to be her friend. This really dives into the examination of magical consequences, friendship, and forgiveness.
Villanueva did a really fantastic job comparing and contrasting Jolina’s and Claudine’s and showing how their own prejudices about each other hindered them from seeing the good in one another. Assumptions and miscommunication is so common, and I really enjoyed watching how this was addressed and overcome in the story.
This is one of those books that you should not read on an empty stomach because OMG I needed all of the food that was described. The descriptions are so lush, and I was salivating at all of the delicious foods that I was not eating alongside everyone else. Rude.
Overall, if you love a good coming of age story that centers family and friendship but also sprinkles a dash of magic then you will definitely love this story.
Thank you to Scholastic Press for providing a review copy. This did not influence my review. All opinions are my own.
5.0 out of 5 starsBeautiful middle grade story about friendship and magic
Reviewed in the United States on April 26, 2021
Review first posted at Girl Who Reads. A free copy was provided in exchange for an honest review.
Jolina is so fed up with being bullied by Claudine that she uses her grandfather's arbularyo magic to brew a love potion to soften Claudine's attitude. It works so well that Claudine now wants to be Jolina's best friend and do whatever she asks. However, magic like this comes with a cost...
We begin right off the bat with Jolina explaining accidental and intentional magic, and the fact that her grandfather is a faith healer. She's his apprentice, and while he teaches her how to make potions, he also gently reminds her that magic can't force people to be things that they're not, and shouldn't be the answer for everything. We also see why Claudine gets to Jolina so much: the loss of her grandmother triggered her family's move to help her grandfather, and her mother works for Claudine's family-owned resort. Jolina fears for her mother's job and doesn't want her parents worrying about her, so she doesn't even mention the bullying. Every child that was ever bullied will understand this feeling, and the hopeless dread when having to see their bully every day.
Jolina acts like many other eleven-year-old girls would when faced with a rich girl trying to be her friend. This definitely doesn't jive with the spirit of magic that she used to make the love potion. I understand the impulse, and we get discussions on the concepts of sagip, an animal saving you from an illness or bad fate, as well as balik, the evil that comes as a result of magic gone awry. There are many facets of Filipino culture here, from the food and language, as well as the universal concerns of jealousy, insecurity, and the need for friends. I felt for Jolina's struggles, and even for Claudine when we learn more about her story. The ending left me in tears and is so well done. It's a beautiful story, with a great message for all middle-grade readers as well as the adults in their lives.
5.0 out of 5 starsA sweet, fun story of friendship, magic, and one big mistake
Reviewed in the United States on November 23, 2021
Gosh, wouldn't it be nice to snap one's fingers and a bully will suddenly start being nice? But of course, nothing is that simple, and this story asks all sorts of questions about the main character Jolina's choice to do exactly that when she gives her class bully magic candy meant to make her a kinder person.
This was such a sweet, fun story of friendship, magic, and one big mistake. Writing a character who has relatable flaws and makes questionable choices can be a challenging balance, and Villanueva handles this masterfully. Our protagonist Jolina uses magic to force the mean girl Claudine in her class to be nice after Claudine humiliates her. But isn't it wrong to manipulate others, even if the reasons seem right and good? Do bullies hide layers beneath their prickly exteriors? Are there dangerous consequences to doing things that we know we shouldn't do? What makes a friendship real and true? I loved the questions this story asked and was totally charmed by the relationships that unfold in its pages.
Set in the Philippines, readers will also be immersed in Filipino culture and food, complete with a recipe to try at the end!