SUGAR AND SPITE by Gail D. Villanueva

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Magic is part of Jolina’s heritage. Ever since she and her parents moved from the big city of Manila to the much smaller Philippine Island where her lolo lives, he has been teaching her how to brew his famous potions As part of their lessons, Lolo warns Jolina never to use magic improperly, never to use magic against a person’s will, and especially to be very careful with love potions.

But Jolina knows someone who is desperately in need of a love potion. Or at least a “be nicer” potion. Claudine has been bullying her ever since Jolina moved to the island. Just because Claudine is rich, she thinks she’s so much better than everyone else. So after Claudine embarrasses her in Sunday School (again), Jolina sneaks into her lolo’s workshop and makes a love potion.

It works perfectly! Not only does Claudine stop being mean, but she wants to be Jolina’s BFF! But Jolina begins to regret her plan when she realizes that Claudine is actually a great BFF–a BFF Jolina desperately wants to keep. And if Claudine ever finds out about the love potion, their fake friendship will be over for good.

There’s a lot to love in this MG magical realism. Villanueva gives readers an accessible window into the complexity of ethics and the limits of one’s own point of view. Both Jolina and Claudine have flaws and blindspots, and in the end, they will both need to forgive in order for their friendship to survive. The novel also explores the effects of class divisions and racism/”light skin” bias on self-esteem. A sweet and thought-provoking read for fans of magical realism and realistic fiction.

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