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CW: Alcohol, Toxic relationship, Toxic friendship, Emotional abuse, Racism, Classism
This is Not a Personal Statement is a YA/new adult novel about a young Filipina woman’s quest to actualize her identity. Six hours away from home and at a university where she is not actually enrolled, sixteen year old Perla Perez is trying hard to shed her “Perfect Perlie” image that her uber successful parents crafted for her since she was born. But mostly, she is doing her best to survive.
Amid all the hard work that goes into lying and hiding her secret from her peers, Perla manages to make new friends, secure some cash for herself, and work on her complicated plan to actually get into college the next semester. She also has to face a lot of difficulties that not even her meticulous spreadsheet could have prepared her for.
Though Personal Statement follows a teenager, it is set at a university. Essentially it’s like reading a young adult narrator in a new adult setting. As a reader, I sometimes struggle with YA when it comes to voice and tone. That was not the case with this one. Perla as a character was in her head a lot, but she is dealing with a situation beyond that of the average sixteen year old. Though her decisions were questionable at times, she did her best with what she had and developed a stronger sense of personal responsibility. Her interactions with others and her growing confidence in herself seemed natural and were enjoyable to read.
For as long as she can remember, Perla is constantly reminded of the sacrifices her immigrant family has made for her. Perla felt like she owes them, and that her choices are not her own. This greatly affected her decisions, particularly the biggest decision of the novel (printed on the book jacket) in which she decided to fake her way through her first semester at college. The lengths she went to to live up to her family’s expectations were very drastic, and spoke of the stress that was at a constant boil under the surface. I think this kind of pressure described throughout the novel from family and culture is something that many can relate to, especially in BIPOC communities. Within AAPI media, we get a similar example of the difficulty of living up to parental expectations while trying to maintain an independent identity through Meilin Lee, the main character of Disney’s Turning Red. I think it’s so important that these issues and feelings are being expressed in recent media, and I love that these books and movies exist, especially for young people.
This is the author’s first YA, but not her only book. Freddie vs. the Family Curse was Badua’s debut novel; it is a middle grade that follows a 12 year old boy navigating magic and a high-stakes deadline to make things right for himself and his family. It is always exciting to see an author move between genres so gracefully. Her next book, The Takeout (releasing in May 2023) is a middle grade about magic and food trucks. If it’s anything like her other novels, you can expect it to explore Filipinx culture, family dynamics, and identity in an engaging writing style.