K.M. Levis is a Cagayan de Oro-born author of the young adult novel The Girl Between Two Worlds (Anvil, 2016). She has worked with ABS-CBN and SBS in Sydney and several of her stories landed in the New York Times and Al Jazeera. She has experience as a journalist and editor for online and print media such as Madison, Your Garden, Dolly, House and Garden, CNet, APC, and Practical Parenting. She finished her bachelor’s degree at Silliman University and her master’s in communications in Singapore through an ASEAN scholarship. In the last three years, she self-published two children’s books. The sequel of The Girl Between Two Worlds will be out in local bookstores in the next months.
Imagine an anomalous creature visiting your neighborhood one night: a person dismembered waist down, sporting saurian wings at the back, dishevelled long hair veiling a hideous face and dark, red eyes glowing in the dark, and long hands and long, sharp nails on hands meant to claw and hurt. And imagine that same creature hovering in your neighbor’s house and terrorizing its teenage residents. But imagine that in a specific place, like California. It need not take long for the reader to be astonished at the idea that a creature of Philippine lower mythology, the manananggal, would exist in the same time-space as in the United States. But indeed, this is the premise of The Girl Between Two Worlds.
Without spoiling much, the novel centres around sixteen year-old Karina Harris, a protagonist who struggles for a normal life, in spite of her mother’s disappearance right after the family migrated to America. At the first chapter, the reader has already been hooked on the supernatural events taking place in Karina’s world. Indeed, it would be a minor spoiler to mention that Karina is not so normal after all: early in the novel, the reader is introduced to Lolo Magatu, who claims to be the protagonist’s grandfather and that her mother is a an engkanto, heir to the throne of the kingdom of Engkantasia. It is here that makes clear that Karina is, indeed, a girl at the threshold between the real world that his father & her friends inhabit, and the world of Engkantasia where her mom comes from. It is in this backdrop that the novel follows the coming-of-age story, where the mechanics of the fantasy world is revealed to the readers alongside with Karina’s development in her abilities as a half-engkantada while balancing it with school life, especially a budding romance with a new student. Indeed, nothing in the novel is incongruent: each detail and scene add up to the finale, neatly tying up the strands of the story by the end of the novel.
Since the novel is narrated in the first person, the use of short news clips and engkanto information—strategically distributed in relevant chapters in the novel—served to clarify and enhance the story, overcoming the limitations of having the story mainly narrated through Karina. And while reading through the several pages of the novel, the reader might get jaded on how the novel seems to fall into formulaic story-line: where a character discovers being “different” and learning to come to grips with it while engaging in a battle between good versus evil. Even so, this makes up for how the author develops the character of Karina, where the reader comes to know her a naive teenager, self-entitled to all that people her age deserves, and develop into maturity: the crucial decision she would make near the end of the novel may come as a surprise to some, although it would have been inevitable with the way the protagonist has been portrayed throughout the novel.
Reading the novel, it can be reasonable to see in Karina portrayed the Filipino migrant experience to foreign countries. Parallels can be drawn in how the world of Engkantasia intruding in the protagonist’s real world, with how Filipino migrants and their families negotiate identities in foreign, unfamiliar places. Uprooted from the soil from which they grew, Filipinos have to adapt and take root in foreign soil despite of the longing for the homeland. Indeed, the way Lolo Magatu came looking for Karina makes tangible the experience of, say, Filipino-Americans being “haunted” by the Filipino culture and identity, thus drawing them to go back to their roots and re-“discovering” it. Indeed, The Girl Between Two Worlds is an enjoyable read: full of exciting twists befitting page-turning fantasy novels. It is another contribution to Filipino YA literature, comparable with Karen Francisco’s Naermyth and Edgar C Samar’s Janus Silang series.
This was previously published in Issue 3 of Bulawan Literary Journal of Northern Mindanao.