In my years participating in the international book scene, particularly in the U.S. publishing industry, I noticed that books from the Philippines or works that feature Filipino characters are quite rare. This is especially true with Filipino YA books. Sure, there are YA books with Filipino representation here and there, but rarely do they capture the authentic experiences of Filipino teenagers from the Philippines. As a Filipino myself, I’m somewhat disappointed as I don’t see myself enough in these books.
If you’re new to Filipino YA literature and do not know where to start, keep reading for my recommended titles.
The Filipino books for teens below feature characters with unique life experiences. Filipinos are all too familiar with how difficult it is growing up in the provinces: the apparent harshness of religious parents, the unbearable messiness of local politics, the dreary routine of high school life, and more. You’ll see variations of these in the books below — whether it’s romance, contemporary, fantasy, horror, or fiction. There are award-winning books, and there are also some that are written by recognized YA authors in the Philippines who do not enjoy global prominence. There are books that feature Philippine mythology characters, and ones that deal with current events that concern the youth. There’s something for every young reader here.
So without further delay, here are 12 Filipino YA books from the Philippines to add to your reading list:
The Best Filipino YA Books
Catch A Falling Star by Cristina Pantoja-Hidalgo
Published in 1999, Catch A Falling Star is a coming-of-age short story collection aimed at young adult readers. The collection has 12 interconnected stories that revolve around the life of the protagonist named Patricia Soler or Patriciang Payatot. It offers glimpses of what growing up as a teen looks like in the Philippines.
Before the stories were published here, they appeared first in many local magazines.
What About Today by Dawn Lanuza
This sweet, “instalove” YA romance book by Dawn Lanuza, a Filipina romance writer in English, follows two young people who find instant connection in an amusement park. Aiden is working for his family’s amusement park for the summer in which Gemma decides to visit. It’s her first time, but luckily, Aiden is there to guide her along. Soon, the two realize that there are sparks in the air.
The Girl Between Two Worlds by K.M. Levis
The first from the author’s Engkantasia series, The Girl Between Two Worlds is YA fantasy that features Philippine mythology characters.
It follows Karina, who, after her 16th birthday, starts experiencing the supernatural. Soon, she discovers that her mother is an engkanto (a mythical spirit) princess who escaped from their kingdom of Engkantasia. And now that she’s at the right age, the responsibility befalls Karina to take the throne to prevent a war between the world of Engkantasia and of the humans, and to learn how to take control of her abilities.
O.C.W.: A Young Boy’s Search for His Mother by Carla Pacis
In the Philippines, going abroad to find work and a better life has become the norm. Called Overseas Filipinos Workers or OFWs, they go to different countries to work as nurses, domestic helpers, construction workers, etc. In O.C.W., a mother leaves her family behind to work in Hong Kong. It’s a common story for many Filipino migrant workers and their families, but here, the mother’s departure might break the family apart. Her husband is a drunkard, and her children need attention and care. Then the situation takes a turn for the worse: Tonyo, one of her children, goes to Hong Kong to search for her.
The Mystery on 17th Street by Annie Gorra
Though it feels like YA mystery, it reads like a memoir. The book follows a boy named Augustin as he recalls the people he witnessed living on the 17th Street Nazareth of his hometown Cagayan de Oro in the Philippines.
The book moves at a slower pace, but the author evokes small-town intrigue with each story. Most stories have a mystery element, while others are more character-based.
The Year We Became Invincible by Mae Coyiuto
This YA contemporary novel follows a young woman named Camille, who writes letters to her future partner à la To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before. The story is nonlinear, but we get to experience living like a Filipina teenager with Camille, exploring what she wants in life and in her relationships. For such a short and light book, it packs some wisdom on many subjects concerning identity and family.
Young Blood Omnibus Volume One edited by Jorge Aruta et al.
This is an omnibus collection of essays and opinion articles written by Filipino teenagers, culled from a series of books published in the early 2000s. The pieces themselves originally appeared in the youth-oriented opinion section, “Young Blood” of the Manila-based newspaper Philippine Daily Inquirer in the ’90s. The essays are random in nature — the themes can include love, politics, and the current event at the time.
Due to the local success of “Young Blood,” the newspaper also published succeeding collections from its treasure trove throughout the years. Last year, it came out with another omnibus collection.
Si Janus Silang at ang Tiyanak ng Tábon by Edgar Calabia Samar
The first book from a popular YA fantasy series featuring Philippine mythological characters, Janus Silang follows the titular character Janus, as well as his friend Joey, as they investigate the mysterious deaths of online game players in a small town.
The book won 2016 National Children’s Book Award for Best Read for Kids. In 2018, local media network ABS-CBN scooped its television rights.
The success of the book paved way for many others in the series: Si Janus Sílang at ang Labanáng Manananggal-Mambabarang, Si Janus Sílang at ang Pitumpu’t Pitong Púsong, Si Janus Sílang at ang Tiyanak ng Tábon, Si Janus Sílang at ang Hiwagang may Dalawang Mukha, Si Janus Sílang at ang Hiwagang may Dalawang Mukha, and the latest, Si Janus Sílang at ang Lihim ng Santinakpan.
Don’t Tell My Mother by Brigitte Bautista
Don’t Tell My Mother is a YA lesbian fiction by one of #RomanceClass’s queer authors. The group is a Filipino community of writers that publish new adult and young adult romance books in English.
The book follows a 19-year-old closeted lesbian named Sam, who grows up in a traditionally religious family. Though Sam’s mother is strict and is abusive toward her, that doesn’t stop Sam from befriending her widowed neighbor, Clara. Soon, her friendship with Clara turns into something more. It’s a short, bittersweet tale.
Waking The Dead and Other Stories by Yvette Tan
Although marketed as horror, Waking The Dead and Other Stories is a collection that features 11 speculative fiction short stories. It was first published in 2009 and was re-released in 2021.
The book draws attention to Philippine mythology characters such as tikbalang (a half-man, half-horse creature) and kapre (a very tall man that usually holds tobacco). Despite the marketing slip-up, this slim collection is very well-written.
Bola Bola: Cook, Feed, Love, Repeat by Anna Geronga
A YA romance featuring a fat main character? Due to the dearth of fat representation in the local literary scene, this is almost unheard of. Thea has always had feelings for her kuya’s (older brother) best friend, Lucas, but she has insecurities with her body. So she thinks of other ways to get Lucas’ attention: by cooking Filipino food.
This sweet and light read also explores the many challenges Filipino teenagers face today, like finding their way in adulthood.
Kids These Days: Stories from the Luna East Arts Academy by Mina V. Esguerra and Ronald Lim
Inspired by Sweet Valley High, this is a collection of YA short stories from the founder of #RomanceClass and Filipina romance writer in English, Mina V. Esguerra. Kids These Days is pretty short, with stories that revolve around teenagers studying at the titular school; it explores teenage love, friendship, and identity among others. Reading the book as an adult, it sure evokes high school memories.
Do you want more books from Filipino authors? Here are five of the best Philippine literature books if you only need a short list and want to try the genre for the first time; this list features fiction and classics from Filipino literary heavyweights. But in case you’re not into that, here are some recommended Filipino horror books as well.