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Telling tall tales is not generally advisable, but London - based Filipina author Candy Gourlay is an exception to the rule. In her first novel "Tall Story," Gourlay deftly spins a modern-day fable of teenage angst, cultural differences, sibling dynamics, bullies, basketball, gigantism, and of course, magic. If that seems like a mouthful, well, it most certainly is. I imagine a story proposal for something of so many layers would be met with an incredulous, "You want to do what!?" If Gourlay had any doubts writing the Young Adult Novel, it's a fortunate thing for readers everywhere that she didn't quit. I must admit, ever since I stumbled upon her blog "Notes from the Slush Pile," I'd been eager to read her debut novel, which was going to be published by David Fickling Books in the UK, and by Cacho Publishing House in the Philippines. At the time, there wasn't very much to go on, but the mere fact that a Filipino author was coming out with something for young adults was already exciting. Finally, something we can actually relate to (unlike vampires, which seem to be all the rage).
When I finally read "Tall Story," I was pleasantly surprised to find that all my anticipation had not been in vain. "Tall Story" is told by Andi and Bernardo, half-siblings who grew up across the world from each other. Short and spunky thirteen year-old Andi, whose real name is Amandolina, is completely into basketball, and wants nothing more than to make it to her school's basketball team. Bernardo, her older brother, is eight feet tall, and the town hero in San Andres, where he is believed to be the reincarnation of the mythical giant Bernardo Carpio, and their savior from earthquakes. Andi is Michael Jordan's biggest fan. When she finally meets Bernardo, he tells her that Michael Jordan is his biggest fan. Broken English aside, Andi and Bernardo eventually warm up to each other and a rich story unravels. All his life, Bernardo had wanted to live with his mum and Andi in London. All her life, Andi had wanted her kuya to come and live with them. Andi's mum wishes for a space bigger than their shoebox apartment. Andi and her mum both get their wishes. Andi makes it to the school basketball team, and they get a new house. But one wish granted is another taken away - a new house means a new school, and no basketball team. On the other side of the world, Bernardo gets his wish to finally go to London. But his wish granted spells trouble for the people of San Andres, who believe without Bernardo, earthquakes will plague their town. You'd be hard-pressed to find siblings as different as Andi and Bernardo. The characters in Bernardo's story are literally worlds apart from those in Andi's. His tales about Mad Nena and her daughter, the school bully Gabriella, seem to tower over Andi's relatively standard teenage problems. Gourlay handles her themes with subtlety, and her characters are real, warm and lovable. Often, when stories about Filipinos are written in English, the conversations are awkward, or the details that make the story "Filipino" stick out and readers may feel as if the context is being shoved in their faces. But Gourlay strings words together naturally, and the story flows smoothly despite the shifts in perspective. She uses footnotes to explain terms like 'Mum' for her Filipino readers, and 'Ate' for her English readers. In the end, it isn't just that "Tall Story" is well-written that makes it a good read. From the opening lines "Rush hour. So many armpits. So little deodorant," the reader is hopelessly captivated, and before you can say "I couldn't put it down," the 300 pages have been turned. There are several moments in the plot that threaten to be cheesy, but Gourlay's clever handling of dialogue makes the reader laugh instead, hardly noticing the tenderness underneath, or the depth and complexity of all the interwoven themes. "Tall Story" is written for young adults - but it's an easy read that people of all ages will find memorable. - GMANews.TV