Book review: Leonna’s “Mahal Kita, Pero –“

Happy Pride Month everybody!

So. It’s been quite a while since I’ve blogged — more than a year! — and I legit had actual difficulty logging in to this blog again. BUT! I am slowly, slowly trying to make my way back to regular blogging, and what better time to do it than during Pride Month? When I am at the height of my powers.

All the books I’m going to review for this month will be LGBT books, starting with Precious Hearts Romances’ Pride Lit line, made up of “Mahal Kita, Pero –“, “Fab & Proud: An Anthology of LGBT Stories”, “Oh, Boy, I Love You!”, and “Left Brainer Community”.

I, admittedly, have not had a great experience with Precious Hearts Romances that have dipped into the LGBT experience — please see my review of Owwsic’s “Lesbi In Love”. Will Leonna’s “Mahal Kita, Pero –” fare any better? Read on under the cut!

Jambiya “Jam” Mecca Kintanar is the son of a retired general who plans to spend his last semester in college quietly drawing and earning his degree. However, his plans go awry with the arrival of Percival Rommanuel Enriquez — Pero for short.

Pero is mischievous, charismatic, and doesn’t take no for an answer, soon making himself an indispensable part of Jam’s life. As they spend more and more time together,  not only do they become the best of friends, but Jam slowly finds himself falling for Pero.

However, a military family, and a Filipino military family at that, isn’t exactly a family that you expect to be supportive of a gay son. As Jam finds himself falling deeper and deeper in love with Pero, will he be able to find support and acceptance from his very macho family? And just as importantly, will Pero love him back?

Because of my experience with “Lesbi in Love”, I approached “Mahal Kita, Pero –” with more than a little trepidation. Would queer people get the same awful representation here that they did in “Lesbi in Love”? During the first few pages I feared that would be the case, as it’s immediately noted that Jam sometimes gets mistaken for a girl. While there’s definitely nothing wrong with femme gay guys, it’s just become lazy shorthand and I am frankly tired of it.

Thankfully, Leonna proves me wrong as she writes Jam as more than just a femme gay guy. He’s a literal fighter who can take on more than a few guys and even ends up rescuing Pero on one occasion. Pero is also a mischievous character who one can conceivably fall for, and I could easily imagine how his interactions with Jam could make someone feel kilig on more than one occasion.

I also appreciated that the queer characters’ sexual sides aren’t swept under the rug either. They kiss and they get aroused, and get into as much physical intimacy as straight couples do in other Precious Hearts Romances books.

Another improvement over “Lesbi in Love” is that while there is homophobia in this book, it is never treated as a joke and it is always made clear that the people who exhibit this behavior are not the ones you should sympathize with.

But while I had very little problems with the queer representation in the book, Leonna lost me when Jam’s family finally discovers that he’s gay. Once this happens, the book turns into a veritable soap opera. There’s shouting matches between family members where the tired “bakla, salot!” insults get thrown around, and one of the characters even gets kidnapped and gets threatened with chemical castration. Just like Alan Turing. Who is also mentioned in the book.

I was also put off by how quickly and conveniently everything was resolved by the end of the book, and how easily some characters were absolved of their wrongdoings. Do we just forget that kidnapping and chemical castration was just involved? I know a certain part of the Filipino audience loves the operatics — heck, even I do — but even soap operas dish out some punishment for its antagonists before they get redeemed or absolved.

In a way, it’s an improvement that the thing I’m objecting to with regards to this book isn’t the representation, but the story itself. At the very least, Pride Lit and “Mahal Kita, Pero –” didn’t make the story be about straight people changing their mindset because of queer love. The queer love story is the main focus here, with the changing mindset a happy side effect.

So if you’re fine with an over-the-top soap opera conflict, I don’t think there’s any harm in giving “Mahal Kita, Pero –” a try. However, if those kinds of things just make you roll your eyes, then maybe it’s better to just give this book a pass.

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