Sometimes, I come across a novel that just hits several of my reader sweet spots during a particular point in time, and I just fall absolutely in love with it. The Quiet is Loud hits a few of my sweet spots right off the bat — it’s speculative fiction with angsty X-Men vibes, and it explores themes of identity, family, and belonging from the perspective of a Filipino-Canadian main character. Even better, I came across this book when I started becoming interested in reading tarot cards myself, so I super nerded out over all the scenes where the heroine interprets tarot cards.
The Quiet is Loud tells the story of Freya Tanangco, a Canadian of Filipino and Norwegian heritage, and a tarot card reader blessed/cursed with visions of the future. She keeps this ability under wraps, partly because people with special abilities, called vekers, are considered dangerous and ostracized (hello, X-Men vibes!), but also partly because she’s dealing with the trauma of having predicted her own mom’s death at the age of 10 (hello, angsty superhero origin story!). An online tarot reading leads Freya to connect with a group of other vekers, and the story unfurls in complex layers that explore themes of identity, heritage, family, and community. The novel contains compelling characters, an engrossing story, lots of stuff to unpack and lots of Filipino food descriptions to enjoy, and I absolutely loved it.
Strongly interwoven into Freya’s journey of self-discovery is the complicated relationship she has with her father, a literary fiction writer most famous for his novel about growing up Filipino in a mostly white community. Entitled Kuya (older brother), the novel thoroughly mines his younger sister’s history of alcoholism for trauma material, and given how much hate vekers face in society, Freya is understandably wary about her own experiences being exploited for a future novel. Veker abilities are a springboard into themes of family and belonging — Freya balances her human concerns with the complexities of being a veker, much as she embodies multiple lived identities as Filipino, Norwegian, and Canadian, and also much as her own father struggles between telling the stories he knows as a Filipino in Canada, and not being pigeonholed into telling only Filipino stories.
Freya’s father, while in many ways the villain, and more a spectre than an active actor in many of the scenes, is a fascinating character. He’s fiercely proud of his Filipino heritage, but there’s almost a sense of desperation in his fervour. There’s a great scene, somewhat late in the book, where Freya and her father are in a Filipino restaurant, and he has to admit his Tagalog is limited, as is his knowledge of some of the dishes on display. Up until that point, Freya’s father was portrayed as being super enthusiastic about Filipino food and stories from Philippine mythology, but it didn’t really twig for me what had felt off about his enthusiasm until that restaurant scene.
As someone who grew up in the Philippines, when I read the restaurant scene, I found myself shifting from Freya’s perspective to the restaurant owner’s, with the stark recognition, “He’s from here (Canada).” It cast the earlier scenes where he spoke of his love for Filipino food and stories in a new light for me, and even though I technically always knew he’d grown up in Canada, that restaurant scene made palpable for me all the various complexities of ‘Filipino’-ness that Garner explores in her novel. There’s Freya herself, who’s biracial and Canadian from birth, and engages with bits of her Filipino heritage almost at a distance — they’re there, and part of who she is, but not necessarily things she thinks about often. There’s her father, who grew up with immigrant parents in a mostly white community, dealing with hyper-visibility due to the colour of his skin, and grappling with the fierce desire to claim both Filipino-ness and Canadian-ness as his own. And then there’s the reader — my ‘Filipino’-ness is different from both Freya and her father, in a way I feel but can’t quite define, and I imagine other readers, whether or not they’re Filipino, will respond in different ways as well to these aspects of the story. It’s all subtly done, but wonderfully complex.
The rest of the story is just as rich, and I’m sure that, depending on readers’ own interests and life experiences, likely other readers will find other aspects of the plot that’ll resonate with them. There’s the complicated relationship between Freya’s aunt and cousin, the somewhat complex relationships amongst the vekers in the support group, the debate about whether or not vekers should be more visible in society and share their stories more openly, and so on. The big climactic moment fell a bit flat to me, and I honestly felt the veker cast in the villain role for this part of the plot was treated too harshly. But I also thought the set-up was well-done, and while I wasn’t too in love with how that part of the plot was resolved, I can see why it kinda makes sense. Overall, though, I came out of this book still thinking about that restaurant scene, as well as other scenes that resonated with me, and realizing that there’s no way I’ll be able to contain all the thoughts I had about this book into a single review.
Thank you to Invisible Publishing for an e-galley of this book in exchange for an honest review.