I found out about Choco Chip Hips by Agay Llanera when I saw friends posting about it on Goodreads. I was immediately curious because of the title. I read the premise and it also looked intriguing. I haven’t read anything else by the author and I thought this title would be a good one to start with. It’s Filipino YA and that’s something that I’ll always be interested to try.
Here’s the summary from Goodreads:
Sixteen-year-old Jessie, a baking aficionado, is shy, overweight, and worries too much about what people think. But one summer, a family emergency makes her realize that life is too short to live it on autopilot. Taking her life by the reins, she embarks on a journey that involves ditching the apron for her tank top, as she hip-hop dances her way to new friendships, stronger family ties, and into her school’s most elite club.
I enjoyed reading Choco Chip Hips and I know that I would have fallen in love with this book if I read it as a teen. I’m so glad readers are getting more Filipino fiction nowadays. I liked Jessie’s character and could relate to a lot of things in her life. Like Jessie, I also LOVE desserts (I think that’s obvious if you follow my Instagram account, which is basically bookstagrams and foodstagrams). I thought it was cute that Jessie’s dad runs a local dessert and cake shop. If it was a real place, I would have dropped by their store! Baking is also what brought Jessie and her best friend Kim together. The downside of eating too much sweets and not exercising is that Jessie is overweight. I can just imagine how difficult that is for a teenage girl to deal with. I also struggle with trying to lose weight and living a healthy lifestyle. So that’s another thing that made me empathize with Jessie. I could totally understand the beating that her self-esteem gets because of her weight issues. I thought that aspect of the book was handled very realistically, even with how crude Filipinos can get when it comes to weight-related topics. People here in Singapore are always surprised when I tell them that the first thing Filipino relatives notice when they see you is how your weight has changed. The last time I was home, an uncle said he couldn’t take my picture because he doesn’t have a wide angle lens (I actually thought it was funny but hey, I’m not a sensitive teenager). A non-spoilery snippet that I really liked:
I looked at the mug of thick, hot chocolate, like I was seeing it for the first time. The sides of the cup were smudged with dark brown liquid, dotted with grains. To get this thick consistency, you had to melt the tablea in water with milk, stirring the pot tirelessly with a wooden molonillo. You whisked and whisked until your arms protested, until the ingredients melded in a rich and silky brown. It was a labor of love.
I pulled the mug closer, bowed my head, closed my eyes, and inhaled. It smelled – what was it, exactly? – full. It smelled so many things: dark, earthy, and fruity. I held the rim to my lips and took a long, thoughtful sip.
“It’s not as sweet as you’re used to,” Dad said apologetically.
It tasted a hint of the sweet, a hint of the bitter – the way life always had been.
Argh, where can I get a nice cup of tablea hot chocolate in Singapore? Another thing that I could relate to was how Jessie enjoyed dancing. I’m a frustrated hip-hop dancer and it’s always made me sad that I don’t have the talent when it comes to singing and dancing. I even enrolled in a hip-hop class during one of my summer breaks in high school. The main thing I learned was that I don’t have what it takes to be dancer. Inspired by stories of how great a dancer her mom was back in the day, Jessie tries hip-hop dancing and discovers how much she enjoys it. I thought it was pretty awesome how she decides to break out of her shell and do something different. In the process, she gains some of her confidence back and learns more about herself. I loved how supportive Jessie’s dad is in everything that she does, the two of them were really a team. I also though both Kim and Dave were good friends to Jessie, in their own ways. I enjoyed seeing their interactions. One minor quibble that I have is that I felt like the romance in this book was half-baked. On one hand, it was refreshing that Jessie’s growth as a person was centered on herself and not on another person. But on the other hand, I felt that the story could have been stronger if there weren’t any hints of romance. I would have been satisfied with a blossoming friendship instead. That was a minor issue for me and it didn’t affect my overall enjoyment of Choco Chip Hips. Honestly, I believe this is a well-written piece of Filipino fiction. It felt like the author knew what she was talking about when it came to baking and dancing, two of the major themes of the book. I will be adding this title to my list of recommendations written by Filipino authors. I’m just not sure how well the story will work for non-Filipino readers because some Filipino words are in there but no definitions were included.