Book Excerpt | Have You Seen These Children? A Memoir by Dr. Veronica Slaughter

Have You Seen These Children book coverI’m always excited to discover new-to-me Filipino authors, so when I was contacted about Dr. Veronica Slaughter’s memoir Have You Seen These Children?, I was intrigued. Told from the perspective of the author’s 8-year-old self, the memoir tells the story of Veronica and her siblings as they were kidnapped by their American father and brought to the United States.

I haven’t read the book. Just with the pandemic and everything else going on in the world, I felt like the subject matter was a bit too heavy and emotionally difficult for me right now. But the concept is interesting, and I can see it resonating with many other readers, so I’ve requested an excerpt to share with you, in the event it looks like a book for your TBR.

Have You Seen These Children? publishers August 18, 2020.

Excerpt

From Chapter 6: The Happiest Place on Earth

We had a telephone in our coffee shop that the American customers paid us to use. Dad asked Mom if she wanted to call his friends.

“No, it’s okay,” she said. “You can take them, but they need to be back before noon.”

Vance and I grabbed Mom’s arms and started pulling her from behind the counter. We were spinning with joy.

Mom looked at us. “I’m not coming,” she said. “You’re going with your father.”

I stopped jumping up and down. I didn’t want to go without her.

“Soling and I have too much to do,” she said, shrugging. People lined up before we were open; they could hardly wait to get their brewed coffee and warm donuts. And visiting with Dad had put Mom behind. She needed to prepare food, fry dozens more donuts, and get more coffee brewing. Soling had to stack the dishes, wipe the counter, sweep the floor, and finish folding the napkins Vincent and I had started. Mom never used paper napkins because it was wasteful, so Soling washed and ironed the cloth ones every night.

Mom thanked Dad for the envelope and told him twice to make sure we were back before noon…. Dad wrote down the number of the hotel and the names of his friends on a piece of paper, then handed it to Mom. We hadn’t finished our chores, but Mom said it was okay, we could do them when we got back.

Mom packed a large box of hot donuts for Dad’s friends. She wrote something on the box, but I couldn’t read her cursive. I loved to look at my mother’s handwriting. It was like a beautiful drawing, with lots of loops and curls.

Soling kept saying, “Mo kuyog ko nila”…. “I will go with them.” I didn’t want to go without Mom or Soling, but I also knew they had lots of work to do before opening the coffee shop. Mom told Soling not to worry…. that we’d be back in a few hours and the hotel was only a block away.

Valorie, now nine years old, was the only one with a watch because she was the eldest. Mom told her it was her job to keep track of the time and remind Dad not to be late. Then she packed our new bathing suits, small towels, and extra underwear in small plastic g=bags with handles, each one a different color. Mom always did that so we’d know which bag belonged to who.

At the last minute, Mom said maybe Vincent should stay because he was too young to be near a pool. But he started crying and ran to me; where I went, Vincent went.

“I’ll be in the pool with them the whole time,” Dad reassured her and I told her I’d keep my eyes on Vincent every minute. I promised in the name of God, because that’s what you say when you really mean something.

As I grabbed Vincent’s hand, I got a sick feeling in my stomach. I thought maybe I’d eaten too many donut holes. Then it was hugs and kisses from Mom, then Soling, then Mom again. She instructed us to be polite and behave ourselves.

Soling was not smiling. She looked upset. She held my hand tight until we got to the car. As we started piling in, I remembered my rosary. I never went anywhere without my rosary. I felt safer with it, especially when Mom wasn’t around. “Wait, Daddy, wait!” I cried, then jumped out and ran upstairs to get it.

When I came down, Mom said, “Don’t lose it, you’ll need it for Mass tomorrow.”

“I won’t!” I climbed into the backseat.

Dad took the box of donuts from Mom and told her how much he appreciated her letting us go, then kissed her cheek. It was the first time in three years she had let us go anywhere with him. I was happy she trusted him again. I waved to her and Soling out the back window. Mom waved back, the piece of paper Dad had given her with his friend’s phone number on it gripped in her fingers. Soling didn’t wave; she just stood there like a statue. I kept waving until they disappeared.

I felt that sick feeling in my stomach again.

After driving for a while, Dad said, “Okay, now for the big surprise.” He told us we were flying to America! We would have television and bicycles, and we would go to Disneyland, the Happiest Place on Earth!

There was more screaming and clapping in the car.

But not from me.

“What about Mom and Soling?” I asked.

He told us our mother knew all about the trip and had wanted it to be a surprise. He said they would be following shortly, but first they had to pack our things.

I felt confused. Why didn’t Mom tell us? Why did Dad have to beg her to let us go if she know about it? I didn’t like this surprise. I asked about Lee’s Coffee Shop. Dad said not to worry, that Mom had lots of people to take care of the coffee shop. I couldn’t imagine who would make the brewed coffee and donuts. Only Mom and Soling knew how to do that. What about all our customers? What about our apartment upstairs? What about all the souvenirs hanging on the coffee shop door? Did Lolo and Lola know we were going to America?

The sick feeling in my stomach was worse now, and it wasn’t going away.

About the Book

Have You Seen These Children book coverFour young children caught between love and hate―hostages to the cruelty of revenge. A deceitful American father and a naïve decision by a Filipino mother transformed their lives forever.

Valorie, Veronica, Vance, and Vincent’s perfect world turned into a nightmare one hot afternoon in 1959 in Cebu, Philippines. What was to be a quick lunch with their father turned into a flight to America, where four dreadfully long years of running from state to state, hiding, and vanishing into the night followed. Kidnapped from the only world they knew, confusion quickly set in. At nine, Valorie, the eldest, liked seeing their father after his absence for over a year. Vance, a timid six-year-old, went along with whatever Valorie did. Vincent, the baby at three, cried for his mother while clinging to Veronica for comfort. Veronica, eight, was the only one who was truly panicked by what was happening around them―and she recognized instantly that she and her siblings would have to stick together in order to survive. In that moment, her childhood ended and the warrior within her emerged.

Moving from state to state and school to school, avoiding the law, looking over their shoulders at every turn, the four Slaughter children found themselves fighting not only the heartbreak of separation from their loving mother but also poverty, discrimination, and abuse. Their only weapons were their deep love for one another and an unwavering determination to survive the trials they faced―and find their way back to their mother.

About the Author

Veronica Slaughter - author photoDr. Veronica Slaughter was born in the Philippines to an American father and a Filipino mother in 1951. At eight, she, along with her siblings, were kidnapped by their father and brought to the United States. In spite of her turbulent childhood, she was able to achieve the American Dream through her resilience and determination. In 2017, she retired from her thirty-five-year chiropractic practice in California and moved to the beautiful island of Maui, where she continues to live with her many animals. She has one son; he lives in Northern California and is the love of her life. www.veronicaslaughter.com / Instagram: @VeronicaSlaughter.

Review | Your Truth or Mine? by Trisha Sakhlecha

YourTruthOrMineCoverYour Truth or Mine? begins with a knock at the door of Mia and Roy Kapoor. A young woman has gone missing, and the police want to bring Roy in for questioning.

As the story unfolds, it soon becomes clear that Mia and Roy are far from the happily married couple they appear to be. For avid thriller readers, it will likely come as no surprise that Roy is hiding secrets from Mia, which go beyond a single infidelity.

What did come as a surprise to me is not so much that Mia also has secrets of her own, but that the problems in Mia and Roy’s marriage go beyond infidelity and the standard-issue loneliness / restlessness that often leads to it. Rather, Sakhlecha explores a darker angle to their relationship, and delves deep into how Mia’s experiences in childhood have contributed to how she deals with her current situation.

At the end, the bad guy is someone I didn’t suspect until fairly late in the story. The reveal of their identity is powerful not so much in the shock of it being someone unexpected. Rather, its power is in the realization that this person’s actions further compound on the themes of vulnerability, trust, and the abuse thereof, which were among the drivers of the narrative.

I enjoyed this book. It’s a solid, twisty, psychological thriller that kept me turning the pages even in the midst of a soporific heat wave. More than the thriller aspect, however, I like how it explored the overall twistiness of relationships, and how trauma from particular relationships in one’s past can contribute to a destructive cycle in one’s relationships moving forward.

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Thank you to Publisher’s Group Canada for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Review | Private Lessons, Cynthia Salaysay

PrivateLessonsCoverPrivate Lessons is not at all an easy read, but it’s done really, really well.

(TW: grooming, rape, death of a parent, racism, casual mention of off-page animal death)

Claire Alalay is a 17-year-old piano player who takes lessons from the charismatic and talented Paul Avon. The blurb says it’s a book for the #MeToo era, so I don’t think it’s a spoiler to say that Paul does something unforgiveable.

I’ll be delving deeply into how well Salaysay treats the #MeToo stuff, so first, I want to say that I also really like how Salaysay explored the casual racism and sexism Claire and other BIPOC characters experience. I especially love a scene at a music competition where a white man asks Claire, her mom, and Claire’s Vietnamese-American BFF Tash what their nationality is, because it was so realistic. I especially love the little details that make it especially realistic: how the man assumes the three Asian-Americans are part of the same family and is shocked that Tash isn’t Filipino-American; how Claire’s mom doesn’t know how to respond and so just giggles nervously; how Claire’s white BFF Julia is totally oblivious of what’s happening; how the man has no idea how to respond when the question is turned back on him, and especially, how this isn’t the first time in the story that someone asks Claire this question. Having been asked that question many times myself, I can attest that this scene felt incredibly nuanced and real, and I love how Salaysay wrote it.

There’s also Julia’s perception of Claire’s looks, which again Salaysay handles so subtly that it’s hard to tell whether Julia is somewhat jealous of Claire’s looks because she genuinely thinks Claire is pretty, or if Julia is also somewhat being racist and fetishizing Claire’s Asian-ness. Salaysay kinda blurs the line on this several times, with just-subtle-enough comments from Julia that it makes you a bit uncomfortable, but also, maybe you’re imagining things? There’s a particularly gross moment after Julia learns about the #MeToo stuff, where she outright tells Claire “You’re very sensual. Asian girls. Men kind of slobber all over them.” This was said somewhat within the context of Julia saying Paul’s behaviour was “disturbing” and so could be read as an indictment of Paul’s possible Asian fetish, but it’s also equally possible that Julia believes that Asian girls are “sensual”, in which case, how much of a friend is Julia, really, to Claire? Either way, Salaysay handles this with just enough ambiguity that it’s difficult to label Julia as racist or otherwise, which again feels very realistic and true-to-life.

I also like how Salaysay depicted Claire’s mom’s grief (and possible depression) over Claire’s dad’s passing. Again, it’s the subtle details that Salaysay gets right that makes this work: how Claire’s mom can spend an entire day in bed but then turn cheerful when a church friend comes over; how Claire’s mom turns to her faith for comfort and, for a long time, resists the idea of therapy; how Claire’s mom also finds moments of joy, like in eating a burger and fries with Claire from a drive-through. I love the subtle Filipinisms that make Claire’s mom real — how she says “don’t open the light” instead of “don’t turn on the light”; how she calls Claire “anak” as a term of endearment; how she has a bunch of Virgin Mary, Jesus, and saint statues around the house; how she says prayer is what gets her through; even how she responds when Claire says prayer doesn’t seem to be enough. I love how Salaysay has created Claire’s mom, and I love the relationship between mother and daughter.

Now on to the #MeToo stuff, which as I said, I think Salaysay handles really well. (Minor spoilers follow — nothing surprising, I think, if you’re familiar with the #MeToo movement, but if you want zero spoilers, just skip the rest of my review.)

There are unfortunately far too many possible permutations of #MeToo stories, and I think the one most people immediately think of are incidents when the perpetrator physically forces themselves on the victim, or the victim is drugged or incapacitated in some way.

Less well-known, yet equally horrific, are the more gradual scenarios, where the perpetrator grooms the victim in many subtle, hard-to-pinpoint ways. In this case, Paul is a very demanding teacher, who uses Claire’s admiration of him to push her sometimes to the point of physical injury (at one point, her wrist hurts from her practicing, and she thinks at least Paul will think she worked hard). He also touches her, ostensibly to adjust her position so her playing improves, and something the author does really well is keep the entire thing super subtle. We’re seeing the story from Claire’s POV, so like Claire, we can see all of Paul’s comments on her appearance, his overtures of friendship beyond their lessons, his subtle bits of emotional manipulation to keep her starving for his approval, etc, as potentially innocent, simply a demanding teacher pushing his student to do better. Yet because we’re also distanced from Claire’s situation, we can also feel the slight sheen of wrongness throughout, the slight twinge of something not being right, even though Paul has technically not yet done anything wrong.

Paul’s behaviour throughout the novel is a particularly insidious form of abuse, because it’s so hard to pinpoint exactly what he’s doing that’s wrong, yet we can already see how his behaviour is already starting to change Claire, and make her more dependent on his approval.

Something else that may also be easy to miss in conversations around #MeToo — and that Salaysay explores especially well in this novel — is how easy it is for #MeToo victims to feel complicit in what happens to them. Claire is undeniably attracted to Paul. With the particular #MeToo incident, she specifically sets out wanting Paul to kiss her. Salaysay takes us through Claire’s thoughts and emotions in this particular chapter with heartbreaking clarity, as things shift from giddiness over Paul’s attention to confusion, shame and guilt at how things turn out. In particular, when Paul shifts from tender contact to a more explicit, self-serving act, Salaysay’s language shifts as well. We are right with Claire when she realizes that Paul doesn’t care about her as she cares about him, and because of that, what she ends up doing for Paul feels dirty. There’s a point where Claire tries to back out, and Paul physically stops her from doing so, which I figure Salaysay included so it’s super crystal clear that what happened was criminal. But even without that moment, I think the wrongness in the entire scene felt heartbreakingly real. Salaysay also handled the fallout from the incident in a sensitive, all-too-realistic way.

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Thank you to Candlewick Press for an e-galley in exchange for an honest review.