Summary: How to Make Friends with the Sea
In How to Make Friends with the Sea, Pablo is used to moving around and feeling unmoored. His mama has been packing up and moving every few months since she and his father got separated. Now, they’re in the Philippines where mama is working with an animal sanctuary Pablo is struggling to cope with anxiety and obsessive-compulsive behaviors.
Things take a somewhat positive turn when “Chiqui,” an orphaned Filipino girl with a cleft lip is thrust upon mama. Pablo is anxious about how the addition will affect his routines and his need for quiet, clean spaces. But Chiqui turns out to be completely different from Pablo’s expectations. Still, Pablo must confront his myriad anxieties, including a deep fear of the sea, and find a semblance of home and family.
This book is certainly a travel-on-the-page kind of novel. Its descriptions of the Philippines (Manila is where most of the book is set, I believe) are immersive and atmospheric. I loved seeing all the untranslated Tagolog phrases in the book, which create that immigrant feel in the reader as you experience that language barrier with Pablo and his mother. The writing is also remarkably strong — this story grabs you from page one and was a pleasure to read through and through.
Pablo is a sensitive, deeply anxious boy, but he is also brave — and anyone with anxiety and irrational fears will understand how much energy it takes to surmount them every single day. His mama is also a fiesty, vivid character as are Miguel, Zeus, Ms. Grace, and all the other characters in this book — even Lucky, the dog! However, Chiqui is undoubtedly the spunky star of the show and her relationship with Pablo is one of the sweetest sibling relationships I’ve read in middle-grade literature. I just adored her personality and gusto.
Overall: How to Make Friends with the Sea
How to Make Friends with the Sea is a shining debut that skillfully handles multiple issues, from adoption to anxiety to coping with parental separation and divorce. Set in the Philippines, you can be sure to experience the vibrant culture, food, and heart of the Filipino people in the pages of this book. I would highly recommend it to anyone who’s ready for a heartwarming adventure.
Buy This Book
Have you read How to Make Friends with the Sea or any other middle-grade book set in the Philippines? I’d love some recommendations! Have you read Guerrero’s new book All You Knead Is Love? It’s set in Barcelona, Spain!
Thanks to the author for an e-ARC of this novel in exchange for an honest review.
Jenna @ Falling Letters says
Great review; I will keep an eye out for this one. My Fate According to the Butterfly and Everlasting Nora are two middle grade books I’ve read set in the Philippines. It looks like each of these three books tell very different stories, so that’s great to see!
Afoma Umesi says
Ooh nice suggestions. I started reading NORA but couldn’t get into it — it was just so sad for me at the time. Maybe I will try again.
Jenna @ Falling Letters says
It’s true, I did struggle with Nora because it’s so bleak. I think it’s a good book to be aware of, but I think it’s also okay to set aside if it’s not for you.