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Sugar and Spite author Gail Villanueva hopes to inspire, empower readers through storytelling

Sugar and Spite author Gail Villanueva hopes to inspire, empower readers through storytelling

“Remember, righting a wrong with another wrong does not make it right.”

Sugar and Spite is a brilliant middle-grade book that asks whether it’s ever okay to take away someone’s free will. The story revolves around Jolina, a young girl training with her grandfather to learn how to use albularyo magic, who can’t take Claudine’s bullying any longer. 

As Claudine takes Jolina’s brewed love potion, gayuma, it starts to change her. The love potion conquers Claudine’s hateful nature and wants Jolina to be her best friend. But magic comes with a cost, and bad intentions beget bad returns. 

Delightfully playful and magical, Gail Villanueva’s second novel Sugar and Spite tells a heartwarming story about friendship and forgiveness—a book unafraid to represent cultures and break stereotypes that is perfect for both young and mature readers as it teaches life lessons on self-discovery.

The becoming of Sugar and Spite

During the Fully Booked Chats, Villanueva revealed that the book was actually a way to cope with a loss. Her second book paved a way not only to connect again with young readers but also immortalize someone special in her life.

“The book is really about my dog, Kubrick. It was my way to cope when he passed away,” said Villanueva. 

When writing about a personal experience, Villanueva shared that it’s a form of therapy that can help one heal from pain. The process of writing can help deconstruct what one is feeling, especially when something painful happens.

“The process of writing itself, that’s the form of therapy. That helped me heal. Reading books can make you feel, writing books can make you heal. Usually, when we’re in the heat of emotion, it’s so hard to think: the heart can overwhelm the mind whenever that happens. But when you write it down, you can revisit it later on.”

Rooted in Filipino culture

Aside from Sugar and Spite being a personal story for Villanueva, she also aimed for the book to highlight the local Filipino heritage and insert pop culture references—one would be the names used that are highly likely familiar to Filipino readers: Claudine, Jolina, Marvin, Judy Ann. 

“Jolina Magdangal, Claudine Baretto, Judy Ann Santos, Marvin Agustin, they were really popular for appearing in romance movies,” said Villanueva. “They’re actually based on one particular show: TGIS. It was a show in the ‘90s and more or less, it was our version of Beverly Hills.”

“Filipino audiences, even Filipino-Americans, the first thing they feel is that it reminds them of home. It reminds them of who they are. They feel represented. On the other hand, Americans find it fascinating learning about the Philippines with the book,” she added.

For the gayuma, Villanueva even introduced a famous Filipino dessert and the recipe is a real family recipe she has been doing for years.

“The yema is actually a family recipe. It’s my go-to gift for Christmas. Pre-pandemic, I wanted to share it with everyone. The zest of lemon is actually my mom’s recipe. It adds a little kick to it,” Villanueva quipped.

And for the ultimate lesson she wants to impart to the readers, Villanueva said without hesitation: “You can’t right a wrong with another wrong. Essentially, that’s what Jolina did: she was bullied, but instead of discussing it with an adult, she chose to take it upon herself to give the girl a love potion. It didn’t correct the wrong, instead, it made things worse.”


Inspiring readers through children’s books

Not only is Sugar and Spite a quirky read, but it also tackles injustices such as rehabilitation, skin color, and gender equality. 

Villanueva is determined to be inclusive in what she writes while sharing her personal experiences with the hope to encourage others who are experiencing the same.

“That’s just the world I live in. My skin color has been an issue since I was a child, so it really shows in the book.”

For Villanueva, inclusivity also means breaking barriers. Others might say writing for a younger audience is somewhat easier, but she also wants to change the mindset of some adults trying to look down on children as readers.”

“Respect your readers. The common critique of an adult reader is that they tend to look down on kids. They make it seem like it’s so simple but they're much smarter than you think.  When I had face-to-face readings with kids before, they asked me the most difficult questions.”

With the success of her two books, My Fate According to the Butterfly and Sugar and Spite, Villanueva revealed the most rewarding part of being an author: “Inspiring people to write to tell their story.” 

“People are gonna tell you, money or fame, but really, no. You run out of money and fame fades away, but the experience of changing someone’s life and inspiring them to write their story to tell the world, that’s something else.”


Lightning Questions:

FB: Paperback or hardcover?

GV: Hardcover.

FB: Read all day or write all day?

GV: Write all day. I would prefer to read all day but you know… Deadlines.

FB: Read one book at a time or multiple books at a time?

GV: Read multiple books at a time. I read fast. 

FB: Bookmark or dog ear?

GV: Bookmark! I have a lot.

FB: Early bird or night owl?

GV: Night owl. Usually in the afternoon, my ducks take most of my time.

FB: Do you judge a book by its cover?

GV: Yes. I’m very visual. If a book cover sucks, I’d probably put it in the bottom of my TBR. I’m totally lucky that my publisher asked me for feedback about the book cover.

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