Filipino Family, Friendship, and Fantasy | Sugar & Spite by Gail D. Villanueva [ book review + GIVEAWAY ]

“Dad says that if we keep wanting things other people have, we won’t get to enjoy the stuff we do have.”

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Sugar & Spite

Author: Gail D. Villanueva

Genre:Middle Grade > Contemporary > Fantasy

Publisher: Scholastic Press

Published: April 20, 2021

Format Read: eARC on Kindle

Much thanks to TBR and Beyond Tours and Scholastic Press for this complimentary copy through Edelweiss. This review is voluntary and these opinions are fully my own. Also, all quotes are taken from the ARC and may be different in the final published copy.


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Can a bully be defeated by a magical love potion?

Jolina can’t take Claudine’s bullying any longer! The taunts and teasing are too much. Though Jolina knows she’s still in-training to use her grandfather’s arbularyo magic, she sneaks into his potions lab to get her revenge. Jolina brews a batch of gayuma, a powerful love potion.

And it works. The love potion conquers Claudine’s hateful nature. In fact, Claudine doesn’t just stop bullying Jolina-now she wants to be Jolina’s BFF, and does everything and anything Jolina asks.

But magic comes with a cost, and bad intentions beget bad returns. Controlling another person’s ability to love-or hate-will certainly have consequences. The magic demands payment, and it is about to come for Jolina in the form of a powerful storm…

Magic and reality mingle in this brilliant new middle-grade novel by Gail D. Villanueva that asks whether it’s ever okay to take away someone’s free will.

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About The Author

WebsiteTwitter | Goodreads | Instagram | Facebook

Gail D. Villanueva is the author of Sugar And Spite (Scholastic, 2021). Her debut novel, My Fate According to the Butterfly (Scholastic, 2019), was named a Best Book of the Year by Kirkus Reviews, an Amazon Best Book of the Month Editor’s Pick, and a NCSS-CBC Notable Social Studies Trade Book for Young People.

Born and based in the Philippines, Gail’s daily routine includes running a web design company with her husband while trying to keep up with the shenanigans of their many pets—dogs, ducks, turtles, cats, and random birds they befriend in the backyard.

Learn more at

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Another Favorite Book From My New Favorite Author

⚠ Content Warnings:  Bullying. Internalized Colorism. References to a past loss of a loved one. Strong tropical storm + evacuation.
⚠ Book Tags :  Magic. Family. Friendship. Pets.

☁ Filipino Family, Friendship, and Fantasy ☁

When I saw the cover for this title last year, it has been at the top of my 2021 titles to pick. I felt so lucky that I was approved to take part in this blog tour with TBR and Beyond Tours!

Additionally, I’ll also take part in a live discussion of this amazing book with Kat from Her Bookish Side on Booktube – Happening tonight 04/25 7:00 PM Manila, Philippines Time. JOIN HERE!

Sugar & Spite, aside from its witty title, caught my attention through its main characters named Jolina and Claudine. As a 90s kid, seeing the names of two of the biggest stars during my youth was quite an amusing thing. This book really found its way to my heart even without exploring anything about it yet.

But now, a few hours after this book captured my heart and made me fall in love, I see how there was so much more to enjoy with this story beyond that initial attraction.

☁ Learning Life’s (Hard) Lessons ☁

Sugar & Spite is my first encounter with Gail D. Villanueva’s work and I am so happy that I was one of the people who was able to dive into this world.

In a world filled with Filipino magic, Jolina learns some of life’s hard lessons. From being the new girl feeling lost and out of place, to trying to find new friends but feeling that you are not good enough. From worrying about your parents and your family’s expenses to feeling anxious because you might not be good enough. From realizing how different your life can be with rich people, to seeing how, at the end of the day, you have so many things in common as well.

Sugar & Spite, just like its title, delivered lovely experiences growing up and the harsh realities many kids, especially Filipino kids, have to go through in life.

☁ Filipino Magic & All Its Beautiful Filipino-ness ☁

On its fantasy side, I love how the author was able to effortlessly weave through the concepts of Filipino magic through Jolina’s lolo, as an albularyo. The concepts of “Sagip” and “Balik” were a delight to read, as it was a key part of my own life. Many of these concepts, I personally grew up hearing from my own grandparents and I think it is a bittersweet memory looking back at all of it now as an adult.

I appreciate all of the Filipino culture included in the book, as well, even beyond the magical elements. This book was very unapologetic in highlighting the Filipino culture, using the Filipino language, using our honorifics and “po”/”opo”, and lots of delicious Filipino meals that had my stomach growling!

☁ Friendship & Forgiveness ☁

Another theme this book touched on is bullying, which, personally, is something that almost every person goes through in life. I love how it was touched on in this book — how sometimes, bullying rises from being misunderstood or someone’s fear of not being liked. Sometimes, teasing happens as a product of prejudging people without attempting to get to know them first.

Seeing Jolina and Claudine’s friendship was really sweet. I loved it when they removed all sense of pretense and developed a strong bond. Unfortunately, it was through the gayuma. When I felt Jolina’s remorse and guilt for giving the potion, it really broke my heart and rooting for them to be able to fix everything.

I can only wish that 11-year old me had books like this. It would have saved me a lot of tear-filled interactions with bullies and petty dramas I had with then-friends who could’ve been forever-friends (if I wasn’t so talkative and quarrelsome!)

☁ The Strength Of The Filipino Community ☁

A key scene of this book is being hit by a typhoon, which if we’re being honest, is such a common event here in the Philippines that we don’t even get surprised anymore. In Sugar & Spite, we are shown the realities when Filipinos are faced with natural disasters like this and how the community comes together and helps one another.

☁ Life Is Filled With Love With Pets ☁

One of the most precious parts of this book is the presence of Kidlat, the dog. Kidlat served as Jolina’s real friend, especially as she’s new in the community. Her dog kindly waits for her to go home from school every day, plays with her, eats with her, communicates with her in its own way, and even poses in selfies with her!

For everyone who knows me, you know how much I love my dog, Munchie. Like Jolina, I spend every day with Munchie, and most of the time, I also have her with me when I go out of the house — even on vacations! She sleeps beside me on the bed, we share meals together, and she is just my constant companion in my everyday life.

Seeing how much Jolina & Kidlat loved each other will always be precious to me. Honestly, many of the book’s scenes made me hug Munchie tighter and when you read this, you will understand why!


Overall, Sugar & Spite is just the perfect read, not only for kids but for everyone! Beyond knowing Filipino culture, this book just shone with its messages filled with friendship and love. Admittedly, it was heartwrenching that I was sobbing into my pillow even hours after reading. Yet, I will forever carry with me its beautiful lessons and a piece of magic in my heart.

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My Book Rating Breakdown

🌼 Synopsis:⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
🌼 Main Character:⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
🌼 Support Characters:⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
🌼 Writing Style:⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
🌼 Character Development:⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
🌼 Pacing: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
🌼 Ending: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
🌼 Unputdownability: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
🌼 Book Cover:⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

INTL Giveaway: Win 1 Annotated ARC of Sugar and Spite

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♡ , Yna the Mood Reader

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