I met Mae Coyiuto sometime last year to discuss a project, and we’ve been corresponding on that for some months now when she asked if I would be interested in reviewing her upcoming YA novella. I knew she has been writing since she was very young, but I’ve never actually read any of her work so I told her to go ahead and send me the manuscript.
Set for release later this month (under Anvil Publishing), “The Year We Became Invincible” is about high school senior Camille Li, whose life is planned out to the last detail. She’s a ballerina who plans to major in chemistry, and go on to med school to become a doctor like her dad. But when Camille meets Ian, a “smart ass slacker” and his group of adventure-loving friends, she finds herself doing things she never would have dared to do before, and she starts to reconsider what she wants to do with her life.
“The Year We Became Invincible” is a quick read (86 pages on my Kobo Glo); the feel is a cross between Stephen Chbosky’s “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” and John Hughes’ iconic 80’s film “The Breakfast Club. While I would have preferred a novel set in the Philippines — because the story would have worked just as well in the Philippines and I think there’s enough YA set in the US — the novella was nevertheless an enjoyable read.
I liked the candidness of the novella, which is told in the form of Camille’s letters to her “future partner,” narrating the events of her day-to-day life. I liked how the little details came together to paint a picture of what Camille’s life was like, with her sheltered upbringing in a second-generation immigrant Chinese family and a regimented schedule that basically revolved around ballet practice and school, and how this was disrupted when she met her new friends.
The cast of characters is also nice touch, with the “Invincibles” made up of people who wouldn’t ordinarily be friends: aside from Camille and Ian, there’s the popular girl (Gabby), the filmmaker (Rica) and the jock (Felix). They felt like the sort of friends you’d want to have, the kind you do crazy things with.
I also like that this book isn’t primarily a love story (although there is some action on that front); what shines in this novella, I think, is Camille’s coming of age. The senior year of high school is a pivotal time in any teen’s life, with so many decisions to make that would later impact your life, and I think the novella really captures that. Camille’s turmoil really comes through as she is challenged to take stock of the things she is truly passionate about, and begins to grow beyond the person she’s boxed herself to be.
“The Year We Became Invincible” is a welcome addition to the growing shelf of Filipino YA titles, and what better time for this book to come out? It’s right in time for #NCBD2015! Mae Coyiuto is definitely a young writer to watch, and I look forward to reading more of her work in the future.
The Year We Became Invincible, 4/5 stars
Available in National Bookstore by the 3rd week of July