6 Filipino YA books everyone should read


We are seeing an upsurge in YA or Young Adult fiction, as manifested by the stack of books prominently displayed in local bookstores. We see piles of John Green, Stephanie Perkins and Rainbow Rowell books being gobbled up by book-loving teenagers. But what exactly is YA fiction?

The term YA can be hard to pin down but it generally refers to books written for 12 to 17-year-olds. However, with the cultural definition of “young adult” stretching as far as 30-year-olds, the definition has become fuzzy. For a book to be qualify as YA fiction, it should revolve around themes crucial to adolescence and the main protagonist should be a young adult. Some of the issues YA books tackle include friendship, romance, identity, sexuality, suicide, and bullying. But one must not be confused – YA isn’t new. In fact, it has been around since the 1920’s and includes well-loved classics such as “The Swiss Family Robinson,” “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer,” and “Alice in Wonderland.”

In the midst of all the massive sales and movie adaptations of foreign YA titles, where does the local YA landscape come in?

Just like the characters in young adult books, the local YA industry is also facing its own struggles. We have a market for local YA books, but they sadly don’t get as much mileage as foreign books. We must recognize that local YA books exist and that their themes are more familiar to us because they are the experiences of a Filipino teenager. YA stories offer characters that Filipinos can relate to. The great thing about local YA books is that they show Filipino teenagers facing not just love problems, but real-life struggles. There are far more pressing issues that our binata and dalaga deal with on a daily basis.

What is the future of local YA literature? Palanca-winning writer Edgar Samar Calabia doesn’t want to make any predictions, but he expects that young adults would have more YA books to choose from. Local authors are continuously putting forward new materials and they receive support from readers. And with the right support from the government, publishers, and bookstore owners, our local YA books might just experience a growth spurt and finally take off.

For those who want to familiarize themselves with local YA books, now is the time to begin. The following books discuss issues such as identity, adapting to social changes, socioeconomic status, cultural differences and more. All these books are beautifully woven into local myths and culture.

“Si Janus Silang at ang Tiyanak ng Tabon” by Edgar Samar Calabia 

(Adarna Books)

The first book in this YA series from multi-awarded Edgar Calabia Samar is hard to put down. Samar has masterfully combined old and new elements to come up with a book that champions both modernity and mythology. The mystery starts when teens addicted to the Filipino-made online game TALA: Terra Anima Legion of Anitos suddenly die for unexplained reasons. An outstanding element to this book is how Samar fully imagined the world of Tala. There are detailed descriptions of the game’s levels, the characters, the villains – all of which are rooted in Filipino mythology. It is hard to tell more about Janus Silang without giving away spoilers. One thing is for sure: once you finish reading the book, you will know exactly what Janus means when he recounts the feeling of having a “dilang karayom ng manananggal sa dibdib ko”.


“Mga Tala sa Dagat” by Annette Acacio Flores (translated into Filipino by Nanoy Rafael)

(Adarna Books)

This is a story about the sea and the lives of the characters who depend on it. The son of a legendary fisherman has to give up his studies and start supporting his family following his father’s accident. This kind of sacrifice is a universal problem faced by many children who are forced into child labor because of financial needs. It also tells the struggles of the son as he tries to establish his own identity and get out of his father’s shadow.


“Tall Story” by Candy Gourlay


This book has a very long list of accolades, both local and international, under its belt. Some of it include the National Children’s Book Award in the Philippines in 2012, National Geographic Kids Brilliant Summer Books 2010, and it was even nominated for the Carnegie Medal. This is about the relationship between half-siblings meeting for the first time: Andi, a basketball-crazy girl, and Bernardo, an eight-foot tall giant who grew up in London. Candy Gourlay realistically captured the relationship between estranged siblings and the cultural divide that stood between them. Gourlay also included in the story a legendary and tall figure in Philippine mythology, Bernardo Carpio.


“Woman in a Frame” by Raissa Rivera Falgui

(Adarna Books)

Sining was drawn to a painting of woman who feels strangely familiar to her. This curiosity was so strong that she went out of her way to know more about the woman in the frame. Her search for the artist and the story behind the painting lead her to discover the lives of the real people behind the artwork who all lived back in the Spanish era. Fans of historical fiction and romance would enjoy reading about a love triangle set in 1896.


“Sola Musica” by Ines Bautista-Yao, Mina V. Esguerra, Chinggay Labrador and Marla Miniano


Teenage years are best accompanied with the right soundtrack. For teenagers who are avid music lovers, “Sola Musica” is a short story collection composed of four stories all set at a beach music festival. One story written by Marla Miniano, current editor-in-chief of Candy, is a family-centered tale of a girl dealing with changes, knowing when to follow and break the rules, and learning to look past the surface. The book is published independently and can be bought both in digital and paperback format.


“Salingkit” by Cyan Abad-Jugo

(Anvil Publishing)

The term “salingkit” is used to refer to a person, often younger, who really doesn’t belong, an outsider of some sort. In this young adult novel, we take a look at the 1986 EDSA Revolution from the perspective of Kitty Eugenio, a salingkit witnessing the unraveling of Philippine history.The book shifts between Kitty’s diary entries and third-person point of view. For teens who vaguely know events leading to People Power, they would be happy to learn history told from the voice of someone within their age range.


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