‘My Fate According to the Butterfly’ is a powerful middle-grade novel on the realities of the Philippines

‘My Fate According to the Butterfly’ is a powerful middle-grade novel on the realities of the Philippines

Author Gail D. Villanueva sheds light on privilege, representation, and class inequality in her debut novel.

You know what they say about not judging a book by its cover? Well, Gail D. Villanueva’s cover art for her debut novel, My Fate According to the Butterfly, is one example of this. It shows a brown-skinned girl towering over a city with tall, developed buildings. If you look closely, you’ll see what goes beyond the shiny edifice — the cover shows the muted part of town with small houses in crowded streets, a scene you’d know all too well if you’re familiar with Manila’s landscape. This already tells you a lot about what you’re going to be in it for, and for all the right reasons.

The novel follows the story of young Sab, who believes she’s doomed when she spots a black butterfly. Convinced that it’s an ominous sign, she embarks on an adventure to reunite her older sister and their dad in time for her 11th birthday. However, the quest across Metro Manila is not as easy as it seems, as she discovers the ugly truths that lurk beyond her sheltered neighborhood. 

My Fate According to the Butterfly captures Manila in all its richness, grime, and magic, condensed in a way that’s not only for young adults but also for grown-ups alike. Young STAR sat down with Gail D. Villanueva to talk about writing for a young audience, the power of representation, and seeing life outside of your bubble.

 

Young STAR: You write novels for a young audience. How impactful do you think YA books are in shaping young minds?

Gail D. Villanueva: It’s actually middle grade, ages 8-12. The one I deal with is mostly contemporary instead of otherworld fantasy. Naka-set siya in the present time, pero may magic. That’s what I commonly write. [And] definitely a lot, because at that age, wala pang internalized biases yan eh. They still absorb things. It’s really important that you present concepts in a way that’s age-appropriate for them […] so, mas may extra step and extra care when writing it.

Do you find it more rewarding to write for young readers?

Definitely. There’s an impact to see themselves in a book, they feel represented. They find it na, “Hey, that’s me.” The best thing about them feeling represented, it gives them this idea — it’s empowering eh — the possibilities that they can do. For us kasi, pag hindi mo nakita sarili mo, [it’s like] “Kung ano nangyari sakin, ganito na ko.” Mali-limit ka sa what you have. Pero pag nakikita mo sa sarili mo na, going on adventures, having fun, crying, meeting new people, you can actually picture yourself doing those things and it empowers you.

 

Your book explores pressing societal issues, like the war on drugs and class inequality. Was it a conscious decision for you to include those themes?

Definitely. Kasi, for one thing, it’s set in the Philippines so you can not, not include it. Another [thing] is that I’m very painfully aware that my book is only going to be afforded by a certain demographic. It’s a hardcover, so we know it’s not that cheap. So I knew the kids who will most likely read this, are those who are sheltered, who live in bubbles… you know, privileged. I want them to see na, hey, c’mon guys, there’s a world outside your own. There are those not as fortunate as you are. That’s why sa book mismo naka-mention siya talaga explicitly na knowing you have privilege is not enough. It’s either you just know about it and do nothing or use your privilege for good. So malaking part siya, kasi I feel like in the Philippine society in general, if there’s one issue, it’s class inequality, even at a young age it’s good for them to know that. 

 

How important was it for you to tell this story in particular?

Personally, I feel like, kasi nung bata ako talaga I never saw myself in books. When I was a kid, if ever man may Filipina character, it’s written by somebody white, or somebody who [is Fil-Am] has a Fil-Am experience, and although valid, is very, very different from our experience. So parang sa akin, I really wanted to have representation, so hopefully, those who are like me will have the representation they are craving for.

 

That’s why sa book mismo naka-mention siya talaga explicitly na knowing you have privilege is not enough. It’s either you just know about it and do nothing or use your privilege for good. I feel like in the Philippine society in general, if there’s one issue, it’s class inequality, even at a young age it’s good for them to know that. 

 

How important was it for you to tell this story in particular?

 

Personally, I feel like, kasi nung bata ako talaga I never saw myself in books. When I was a kid, if ever man may Filipina character, it’s written by somebody white, or somebody who [is Fil-Am] has a Fil-Am experience, and although valid, is very, very different from our experience. So parang sa akin, I really wanted to have representation, so hopefully, those who are like me will have the representation they are craving for.

 

What do you want readers to take away from your book?

Simply put, I hope it helps them build empathy, kasi empathy is what makes you a better human being. When you put yourself in the shoes of somebody different than you are — and I’m not just pertaining to Filipino kids in the middle class, I’m also pertaining to American kids — they can see even though things are really terrible there, things are different in other countries that might be a little bit harder than what you’re having. To see that there’s a world beyond what they’re used to. When you put yourself in the shoes of somebody like Sab, and you’re an American kid, you get this better understanding of the world, you get to have a more compassionate outlook.

 

Lastly, do you have any advice for young Filipino writers who maybe can’t see themselves pursuing writing?

You know what talaga, it does feel impossible. I’m not gonna sugarcoat it. It will feel impossible. But one thing that you have to remember is that once you give up, that’s when your dream stops from happening. Ever. So, just keep on trying. You’ll get a lot of rejections. I had like 72, I think. (laughs) Even if I didn’t get an agent at 73, even though I didn’t get a yes at that point, I would still try, because there’s another one. If this book didn’t work out, there’s another book I can write. Kailangan talaga, you just keep on trying. The only time it would be impossible is if you give up trying.

 

 

My Fate According to the Butterfly is now available at National Bookstore branches nationwide.

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