Book review: Andrea Pasion-Flores’ “For Love And Kisses”

For anyone who grew up on the Summit line of romance novels know the name of Andrea Pasion-Flores very well.

This is because Pasion-Flores was behind the bestselling book, “Have Baby Will Date,” about freelance photographer Denise and how she strives to find a balance between dating and being a single mother. She was also managing editor of Bride and Home magazine before moving on to Cosmopolitan and Good Housekeeping.

After her stint at Summit, Pasion-Flores went on to become the executive director of the National Book Development Board, and has managed to bring to the country such acclaimed authors as Junot Diaz and Chris Abani through the Manila International Literary Festival. Recently, Pasion-Flores became part of the Jacaranda Literary Agency, which is based in Singapore.

As immersed as Pasion-Flores has become in the publishing side of the literary world, she hasn’t totally forgotten her writerly roots. Proof of this is the recent publication by UST Publishing of “For Love and Kisses,” Pasion-Flores’ first collection of short fiction, almost 10 years after her first Summit novel.

The collection is made up of seven stories: “For Love and Kisses,” “Vanessa Calling,” “Buttercups,” “Skin Art,” “Love in Mini Stops,” “The Hungry Ghost,” and “How to Drink Whisky, if You’re A Girl,” all of which take on the lives of Filipinas young and old. Will this collection be more like Pasion-Flores’ bestselling work? Or will it be a bold new direction for her?

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The answer is almost immediately clear from the first two stories alone. Neither “For Love and Kisses” and “Vanessa Calling” have the chick-lit gloss, with both of the stories heavy with a tension that one doesn’t usually encounter in the colorful world that novels like “Have Baby Will Date” usually move in. Both protagonists are little girls, but the situations they find themselves in and the decisions that they make are oftentimes more scarring and defining than the ones made by the twentysomethings of the chick-lit genre.

This theme — of one single decision echoing on through the lives of Pasion-Flores’ protagonists —  continues on in the succeeding two stories, ““Buttercups” and “Skin Art”. The main character’s inability to say no in “Buttercups” leads to a shocking accident, while following an impulse leads to heartbreak and an empty back account for the teenager in “Skin Art”.

“Skin Art,” in particular, should be noted for how deftly it navigates the twist and turns of teenage emotion in such a short story. In less than 20 paragraphs, Pasion-Flores cycles us through hope, fantasy, heartbreak, and disillusionment. The fact that she never loses the reader throughout the journey is something to be applauded.

It is “Love in Mini Stops” and “The Hungry Ghost” that offer both the biggest break and the biggest similarities from Pasion-Flores’ former genre. The protagonists in these two stories are the same as in her chick-lit: modern urban professionals with money to spare and the world to conquer. But these two stories show the inverse side of that chick-lit world, one wherein empowerment and financial independence doesn’t always translate into a happy ending.

If there is anything to complain about, it is the fact that the book might be too slim a sampling of Pasion-Flores’ work. Ending the collection with flash fiction piece “How to Drink Whisky, if You’re A Girl” also feels a bit jarring, like having Pasion-Flores be cut off mid-sentence.

That aside, “For Love and Kisses” succeeds in revealing the dark side of the heart and soul of today’s Filipina, and shows that Pasion-Flores is as adept a guide in this world as she was in the brighter world of genres past.

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