by Renelaine Bontol Pfister
Marikit Lakandula is a girl from Barrio Magiting who wants what any normal ten-year-old girl wants: nice things.
Clothes that aren’t old and yellowed and mended. A nice dress and good food on her birthday, similar to a friend’s. Marikit envisions wearing a blue ball gown worthy of a fairy, or diwata. But she is the daughter of a poor seamstress, and her father and brother were lost at sea.
Marikit shares the same birthday as her mother, Aling Anita, who has always sewn clothes for Marikit that she is ashamed of wearing. But she hopes her mother would sew her a beautiful dress for once. Aling Anita tirelessly sits at her makinang de padyak, working day and night to provide for Marikit.On her birthday, Marikit is excited to see what her mother has made her. But instead of a fairy-like gown, she gets a dress patched together using scraps. Marikit gets angry as her little hope for happiness is dashed.
But she has no time to indulge in her tantrum. Suddenly, her world upturns and another she didn’t know before opens. A Shadow comes for her, and she discovers her humble mother is really a diwanlaon: a former diwata, and Marikit is a Halfling. Aling Anita comes from the Manghahabi branch of diwata—“weavers of moon-silk and sunrays, forging the armors of kings and gods.” (page 72)
With this discovery, Marikit is thrust into the Land of Engkantos, where she must embark on a diwata journey and search for “X”, armed with only her patchwork dress as a map to the magical land.
Marikit meets new friends and encounters many enemies in the Land of Engkantos. We come across familiar characters of Filipino folklore: Aswang, Tikbalang, even Juan Tamad, who are given fresh angles and concepts by the author.
A cast of compelling characters abound, such as the small but stouthearted firefly Alitaptap (who goes by Ali), a wealthy but trapped girl named Saturnina, and of course, a powerful Bathala.
This is Caris Avendaño Cruz’s first book. “Marikit and the Ocean of Stars” was published by FSG Books for Young Readers and released on October 18 this year.
Cruz, like her seamstress character, is a weaver: she weaves an intricate, imaginative, and delightful story of adventure and self-discovery. Family and friendship are strong elements.
For example, the author contrasts brother and sister Apolaki (the Sun) and Mayari (the Moon) to Marikit and her brother. While Apolaki and Mayari bitterly fight, all Marikit wants is to play sungka with her Kuya Emman again.
Meanwhile, through characters like the diwata, Principalias and Quarts, Cruz comments on social classes and identity.
The setting evokes memories of us Filipinos who grew up in the Philippines: believing in supernatural beings (for a longer time than we’d like to admit), listening to the sound of a sewing machine as someone in the household mends clothes (in my home it was our beloved yaya, Ate Flor), and playing sungka with our siblings.
“I wanted a story that will take readers home, to our part of the Philippines. The province of Bulacan was a lovely mix of old and new,” says Cruz.
“I was lucky to grow up surrounded by rice fields glistening under the sun, the sound of the sorbetes peddlers in their bikes, the charming rural vistas reflected on the wide fish farms, and the sun-soaked streets, with familiar faces walking by.”
The main characters in the book are inspired by the two women closest to her: her mother and grandmother. Cruz says, “The name “Marikit” sounded like the Tagalog word for small, “maliit,” because my mother was the smallest among her siblings, and they often (lovingly) teased her for it.”
Cruz says she used to be a shy person who expressed herself by writing in a notebook, but when she got involved in her church and in children’s ministry, she realized she loved creating and telling stories to children; like it was something she was meant to do.
Her favorite literary character is Jo March, from her favorite book, Louisa May Alcott’s “Little Women.”
“I always wished for a “Jo Moment,” the time when I could be proud of my writing. I want to think I somehow got that with Marikit!” she says.Each chapter title in the book features a Filipino word, such as “Marikit,” “nanay,” “dapithapon” and “bato,” defined in the regular way and extrapolated to apply to Marikit’s story.
One example is: “Sinulid. Filipino. n. Thread. A long strand of fiber used to weave, stitch, knot, or knit. Occasionally employed to make magical wings.”Tagalog words are used throughout the book, with a glossary to guide non-Tagalog speakers. “I hope Marikit sparks the readers’ interest in learning more about us Filipinos, our culture, and our beautiful folklore,” the author says.
It is an impressive debut, distinctly and proudly Filipino. But the theme is universal.
At the core, it’s about a young girl discovering what really matters and realizing her potential; that powers and magic are something, but not everything.
In order to reach X and fulfill your destiny, one must have heart.
Marikit and the Ocean of Stars by Caris Avendaño Cruz is available to purchase on Amazon and Barnes & Noble.