The debut of lively, candid ‘Chloe’ | Lifestyle.INQ

OCTOBER 27, 2022

“Chloe and the Kaishao Boys”


“Chloe and the Kaishao Boys”

“Chloe and the Kaishao Boys” by Mae Coyiuto (G.P. Putnam’s Sons, New York, 2023, 320 pages) is a lively, readable novel that young adults, especially with Filipino Chinese roots, will enjoy and identify with. That may be a sweeping statement, as it is not really limited to them, as every teenager grappling with oversolicitous elders and the pressure Philippine society exerts will relate to what Chloe Liang is going through.

Consider these all too familiar scenes and characters: The mandatory Sunday lunch for which no excuse for nonattendance can ever be acceptable. Chloe’s well-meaning but overeager dad who kept his promise not to post his latest boast on Instagram, especially for premature news of success, but who let loose on the family group chat, just the same. Her aunties’ fear of Chloe being even more Americanized with her plans to study in the United States. And to study cartoons and animation—how to live on that when a thriving family business, The Liang Zip and Lock Company, awaits her and assures her of financial security?Chloe’s secret thoughts—because she has to be polite and acceptable to her Liang family—are candid and humorous: “I don’t hate Jobert. The way I feel about him is the way I feel about flies.”

She keeps a tally of how many times cousin Peter has to mention that he is a scholar at University of the Philippines (UP), and UP College Admission Test and the Oblation scholarship, too. Of her more compliant cousins, she says, “All my cousins have gladly accepted their fate and taken their seats in the empire.”


Chloe Liang is, of course, of a different mold, dreaming of animation and a University of Southern California scholarship.Auntie Queenie stands out for being a fussy, quirky younger sister of Chloe’s dad whose main obsession seems to be to plan a dream debut for Chloe. She has happily taken it upon herself to plan an unforgettable debut with 18 roses and all.

The problem is that Chloe cannot even complete a list of 18 beyond her uncles and cousins. She is also horrified at the thought of the last debut production of Auntie Queenie—in a hotel ballroom with a winter wonderland theme. She disappoints Auntie Queenie for the lack of romance in her life. Thus is born Auntie Queenie’s idea of kaishao (Hokkien for “to introduce”) for her niece. The family ploy is to arrange dates to make Chloe banish all thoughts of studying in the US.

Chloe detests the idea of being set up and discovers for herself the boys she is drawn to—a surprise to herself—as she endures the long wait for the university’s final acceptance letter. But this is always interspersed with details of her relationship with her father and her long-distance relationship with her mother who lives in the US, dismissed as “Americanized” by her father’s family. The clan does not deign mention the word “divorced,” as it is one of the unspeakable taboos because of their conservatism.

Amusing is her account of the “potent” Vicks VapoRub which is her father’s medicine for everything. It was his cure-all for all aches and pains, even rubbing it on Chloe for good luck the night before the SATs. And on the night she would meet the dreamboat Miles, she actually felt empowered, telling herself, “The power of Vicks is within you.”

As it turns out, Chloe did not need to look far nor to totally depend on the conventional kaishao. The reader experiences what she describes as her kilig moments, never too sentimental, always with much humor: “Rom-coms never have back-touching or knee-touching as big declarations of love.” One is drawn into her ambivalence about leaving home and Jappy, whom she has learned to love.

True awakenings

The book ends giving evidence of true awakenings and self-discovery: “But who isn’t taking a chance on the uncertain? We all have dreams we aren’t sure about, but we keep on chasing them.” And the resolve that, “No matter where I go as Chloe in America, I guess I’ll always be Chloe from Manila.”

The publisher is to be commended for allowing the characters, as they do in real life, to speak in a typical mix of three languages—English, Tagalog and Hokkien—highlighting their multilingual experience. There are five pages in the glossary, but reading these words in the narrative does not hamper one’s comprehension of the story development. With the Philippine diaspora, this book will not be considered alien and directed only towards a specific minority group in any population.In an interview with writer Rafaelito V. Sy for Positively Filipino, Coyiuto narrates that she could have been published earlier, except that the literary agent wanted the novel set in the United States. That was something unacceptable to her, as the cultural element would have been totally lost.

While the local literary community applauds the publication of a young adult romance comedy written by a young Filipino author for an international publisher, Mae Coyiuto’s personal triumph is even a bigger cause to laud. She said, “It means a lot to me when the Filipino communities here [in the US] and back home embrace this as also Filipino. That means the most to me. I hope my story will help other stories in the Fil-Am community be told.”

The young readers who were initially introduced to Philippine literature with the fairly recent emergence of excellent Philippine titles have long grown up and outgrown those lovely picture books. Happily, they have titles like “Chloe and the Kaishao Boys’’ awaiting them today. —Contributed INQ

Available at leading bookstores.


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