Flash Review: We Belong by Cookie Hiponia

By Maureen Tai, 29 August 2022

We Belong (ages 10+) is a middle grade novel that could just as easily pass – in my opinion, more so – for an adult memoir. Elsie, the mother of two energetic girls, is the novel’s main narrator. It is bedtime and the sisters are clamouring for attention, so Elsie tells them stories, weaving two tales with lyrical, sparse verse: one is an old Filipino myth about Bathala Maykapal, the Creator God, and his half-human children, and the other is Elsie’s real childhood story about her family’s immigration from the Philippines to America in the 1980s. The playful mother-daughter dialogue, the shifting points of view, and the pretty, monochromatic line illustrations balance out some of the darker themes that are lightly explored in Elsie’s stories: the violent maiming of one heavenly sibling by another, the abusive relationship between Elsie and her own mother, and the turbulent times leading up to, and after, the 1983 assassination of Senator Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino Jr. in the Philippines. As a mother of similar vintage as the author and having personally experienced the immigrant life (albeit in my adolescence), We Belong was an emotional and resonant read. More importantly, the book was a springboard for sharing my life stories with my own children, making it a perfect bedtime tale to snuggle up with and experience together.

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