Best friends Jo and Liza are as opposite as night and day. Sex worker Jo swears by the worry-free, one-day-at-a-time dance through life. Salesclerk Liza has big plans for her family's future, and there is nothing bigger than a one-way trip to the U.S. But an almost-kiss, a sex dare, and news of Liza's engagement to her American boyfriend unveil feelings Jo and Liza never thought they had. Deciding between staying together and drifting apart puts Liza's best-laid plans and Jo’s laidback life in jeopardy.
When love clashes with lifelong ambitions and family expectations, someone has to give in.
A really striking f/f romance set in the seedy side of Manila. Shop assistant Liza is desperate for a green card marriage to get her and, crucially, her family, to the US, and is on her fifteenth online boyfriend accordingly. Her best friend Jo is a failed singer turned sex worker. They are scrabbling to make ends meet, living lives that grind them down. Then Liza finally snags a sincere American man who flies over to meet and treat her, and quickly proposes. And suddenly things start to shift as Liza and Jo slowly face up to their desire and love for each other.
It's exquisitely done. The yearning and fear are palpable and compelling, conveyed with some haunting lines: I read this novella in a single sitting because I was completely submerged in the atmosphere and the women's story.
The conflict is as real as it gets. Liza's fiance is a perfectly decent man who is willing to give her and her family, including younger brothers, a life far in excess of anything they could hope for in Manila. This is not a trivial or easy choice to be made on the basis of glib moralising about true love: it's a horrible bind for both women. Jo has never risked offering herself, rather than her body, to anyone; Liza has been seeking the dream of escape and overseas comfort and safety all her life.
The characters do not behave in your standard romance manner (a reminder of how puritanical a lot of romance is, with definitions of 'cheating' that sometimes seem to include ever having sex with anyone but your fated mate). Liza sleeps with her American while grappling with her feelings for Jo; Jo has both paid and for-fun sexual encounters ditto; the book is completely nonjudgemental of this, emphasising women's right to do what they want with their bodies.
This is a sometimes seedy, painfully realistic romance with people who have cheap highlights and smoke and drink till they throw up and don't look good in the morning, and the book is all the stronger for it. It's one of the most intensely real-feeling romances I've read, with powerfully absorbing atmosphere and emotion. (And, I should say, it isn't depressing, despite the often sordid setting and problems. This one shows love blossoming where it takes root, not just in the luxury homes of billionaires.)
I had an ARC copy from the author. There are a few editing issues, which I found trivial in the context of how much I liked this.
This one really hit the spot. There were so many things that resonated with me. From its Manila setting, the harsh reality of the "American Dream" and of the characters and their struggles.
I'd say it's part romance, part coming of age story between 2 best friends: Jo & Liza as they each navigate their lives and confront their growing feelings for each other.
Set in Manila, Philippines this book further proves that the world is sleeping on books written by Filipino authors. I highly recommend everyone to follow the #romanceclass tag on Twitter and Instagram for more books like this.
This is a tough book to describe. As a romance, it didn't really work for me at all. As a piece of fiction, though, I found it really enjoyable in large part due to the fact that it's not a book I've read before; it's its own creature, with a fascinating setting and fresh, compelling leads you just never see in mainstream publishing.
Because the blurb never mentions it, and it's only obliquely referenced at the end of the sample, it's worth noting that the story is set in the Philippines (Manila, to be precise.) There's a fair amount of slang that Google and I never did figure out, but it wasn't a big enough issue that I docked stars for it.
My biggest issue is that it was categorized as romance, but the romance didn't really begin until the last page--it spent virtually the entire book as a friendship with the potential for romance--and it had a kind of problematic element [to me] in the epilogue that left me feeling like the romance wasn't going to be terribly long-lived. As fiction? That's not a problem. As romance? Kind of a problem.
Regardless, I liked the leads a lot. How often do you see a sex worker as a main character without her job being shamed, used for reader titillation, or shown as a tragedy the character heroically overcame for inspiration points? Jo's a sex worker. She likes it. She has problems, but the job isn't a big one and it's presented in a very matter-of-fact way. It isn't glamorized or demonized, it just is.
Liza's character is a little more familiar, but she had her own issues and, like Jo, I really cared what happened to her. Everything about the book felt far more real and immediate than most fiction (romantic and otherwise) I've read, so much so that it almost had a pulse. It's a far cry from all of those f-f books with CEOs and doctors. This is street-level existence, and all the better for it.
That said, I could use a sequel? I'd really like to see just how things work out for our leads. Because I have questions.
4.4 stars for originality and quality of writing. Worth your time if anything above piqued your interest.
Received an ARC from the author in exchange for an honest review.
An interesting read. Definitely an atypical romance, probably more accurately New Adult than any title I've read in the genre. Shop girl Liza dreams of a green card marriage to an American. After many failed attempts at online dating, she's almost there... only for her plans to hit a snag when she shares a kiss with best friend Jo, a tough-talking sex worker who doesn't believe in love.
This novella has a profoundly modern feel and not just because of the texting, which feels authentic, or characters thinking of people gossiping about them as them 'trending'.
Jo's profession is dealt with in a refreshingly non-judgey fashion. No one saves her from prostitution, no one pities her for going into that line of work. Instead there's a sense that her shitty job is every bit as shitty and boring as Liza's, or anyone else's. Characters have sex for money, for fun, both before catching feelings and after, with men and with women, and the narrative doesn't pause to moralize about any of these things.
There's also no agonizing about sexual orientation. Women who are married to men enjoy sex with women. Women who've only pursued men, at least as far as we're told, discover same-sex attraction and just roll with it.
All of this is wonderful. Where the book lost me was in how rushed the last third felt. I liked the characters and I felt they were drawn well. Their motivations made sense. Unfortunately, the romantic core of the novella is resolved by one of the characters walking away and going off for the better part of the epilogue on a personal side quest. This isn't to say a twenty-some year old wouldn't, just that it didn't feel overly satisfying. There are some verb tense, dialog tag, and head-hopping issues, as well, but they're fairly minor.
Read this in one sitting on an overnight flight. Bautista is an exquisite writer. I’ve never read another romance like this. In fact, I suspect some people may not consider this a romance, and instead fiction with romance subplot, but I certainly do because the relationship between Liza and Jo is central to the book, even though they spend the majority of it not together.
I don’t want to get into the plot but I’ll tell you what I loved:
-First, the sex worker rep was really good (IMO, granted I’m not a sex worker). And it’s depicted on-page, which... I don’t know if I’ve EVER seen that in a romance? Or at least one where the LI isn’t the client? It’s written as just a job, and while there is one scene where Jo is shamed for this by a date, the book doesn’t shame Jo for this at all. She’s a sex worker for pretty much the entire duration of the book (she never really quits from what I can tell).
-Second, I really loved how this book took on class and the non-American take on the “American dream” that Liza wishes for so deeply that she’s actively looking for an American husband so she can get a green card. Again, there’s no shame in this. And even when Jo doesn’t want Liza to go, she understands that Liza is making that choice for her family. There’s also a kind of wink wink at what the American dream really is, and I kind of read this as... does it really exist?
-And of course, the friendship between Liza and Jo is so strong. There is so much angst as they develop feelings for each other and it’s just.... !!!!!
Please note this book does involve Liza cheating on her American boyfriend with Jo. And Jo has sex (both in her profession and in her personal life) with other people throughout this book. That will be a no-go for a lot of people.
CW: there are some references to domestic violence (a secondary character)
When I saw the author's announcement for the ARC of her latest book, an f/f romance, I jumped at the chance to get on the request list. I read Brigitte's first book, "Don't Tell My Mother", which I loved, and similarly adored her short story, "Lemon Drop Friday" from the #romanceclass anthology, "Start Here", on which I have also contributed as an author.
"You, Me, U.S." has Filipino characters and is set in Metro Manila. Brigitte Bautista's Manila is gritty and cinematic. It's mean-streets Manila, a city where tough women like Jo and Liza were able to sharpen their life skills. Both may have come from the province, but the city was where they had their hearts broken, where both came into their own. It's back alleys and police raids, it's goto and pares houses. It's an almost kiss at a staff party. It's after-hours at the department store. It's finding love in a hopeless, hapless place.
I've come to recognize the snappy exchanges between the author's main characters and their love interests in her stories. The ease of the exchange between the characters, as they quip and quibble make it apparent that the wonderful women inhabiting the author's stories have words at the center of their love language. How the characters communicate through turns of phrase says so much about where the relationship is at -- whether it's an intimate friendship or one that suddenly turns flirty and playful. It's the words, but also how the characters say it.
Unlike "Don't Tell My Mother", "You, Me, U.S." introduces a more mature story. We meet Jo, a sex worker whose best friend Liza turns up at her door suddenly having no place to stay. Liza works as a department store sales girl. Both are decidedly blue collar and come from modest backgrounds; Liza's being more fraught with familial obligations many Filipino readers would recognize. Liza's desire to provide for her family "a better life" drives her motivations. Jo, on the other hand only looks out for number one; she's come to terms with the fact that though she has some talent in singing, she'll likely never be a pop star.
I loved Jo and Liza, separately and as a couple. Jo is brash and unapologetic about her life choices. She has sex for a living, and she seems to enjoy it, as she has some control over her pick of clients and is now self-employed. I liked reading about her on the job. She refers to her clients as "ads" because she finds them on online postings. I liked having little glimpses of Jo's ads because they were all so human. I enjoyed it in a voyeuristic way because the inner, sex lives of ordinary Filipinos is such a mystery. I appreciated that sex work takes all kinds, and not just one type of person.
On the other hand, Liza's character and motivations were handled with so much consideration. Many Filipino women have dreams similar to Liza's, the same objective- to marry a foreigner so she can get out of the country and give her family in the province "the American dream". It's common, but the author is unafraid to go deep. Liza has had her share of heartbreak from past online relationships, but she is relentless at pushing for one that will work. It's easy to get frustrated at a character who never lets up no matter how many times she fails at finding love on a dating app, or even to dislike a character so hell-bent on finding a foreigner boyfriend, but because I understand Liza's motivations, I never felt this way towards her. Similarly, it's easy to play her failed relationships and heartbreaks for laughs, but the author does not do that here. Instead, the failed relationships are treated with wry compassion, and with Jo's support, Liza emerges from her heartbreaks bruised but never broken.
When Liza finally gets that relationship that hits all her requirements, the possibility of her leaving Jo's life becomes very real. Jo and Liza's love for each other is obvious to me on the first chapter, but these characters take their time realizing it. It's a slow burn and it takes its time with both characters. There's really no "bolt out of the blue" moment; rather, a slow erosion of feelings that reveal what is really at the core. Both women have turned up in each other's lives to save each other, and their friendship is so intimate that to me there was no question about their being right for each other. While there may still be work to be done and issues to be addressed when they finally do, I'm satisfied knowing that Jo and Liza will face the next challenges with eyes wide open, and holding hands.
I read this book based on a recommendation by KJ Charles. I rated it a 5 because I haven't encountered a novel quite like it recently. This book is a contemporary love story between two twenty something women in Manila. One is a sex worker, and the other a shop girl with dreams of marrying an American and immigrating to the US. This is a friends to lovers, slow burn romance that is gritty and not what you expect in a traditional romance novel. The prose is beautiful and the story compelling. It reads almost more like fiction than romance, but I would argue that the romance is actually quite compelling. I appreciated reading about women embracing their sexuality, although some might struggle with the significant amount of sex between other partners throughout the book. Overall a captivating read that upends tropes and tells a fresh, vibrant story.
Jo is a bisexual sex worker in Manila and Liza an on and off sales girl who plans to marry a rich American guy and move to the U.S. They're the best of friends, sharing every high and low, supporting each other no matter what. In spite of Jo having had to give up her dream to become a singer, she is fairly content with what she does. Liza seems to be getting closer to fulfilling her goal and thereby securing a new life for herself and her family. But neither could have predicted the sudden turn their lives would take. I thoroughly enjoyed this well written novel, set in a world so different to mine. Reading about the tough but colorful lives of queer millennials in Manila, was educational, but above all entertaining and engaging, which is exactly what I look for in a book. The characters grew on me to the point where I smiled indulgently many times, got frustrated sometimes and had to blink a few tears away near the end. So glad I took a chance on this one.
This story is beautifully written and the romance has an incredibly slow burn to it. It’s not so slow as to be frustrating, however, and it works because Jo and Liza have to grapple with their feelings. Most friends-to-lovers romances I’ve read drive the tension with “but what if she doesn’t feel the way I do? I don’t want to ruin our friendship!” While there’s a bit of that, the tension worked especially well for me because it’s more about Liza having to decide what to do about Christopher. Her decision doesn’t just impact her, it affects her whole family who’s also hoping for that new life in the United States. This brings higher stakes into the romance in a way I’m not sure I’ve seen before and really liked.
THIS IS THE WOKE FILIPINO ROMANCE BOOK Y’ALL NEED IN YOUR LIFE BOOTS THE HOUSE DOWN.
There are so many discussions this book could start off: the fetishization of Asian women by white men; the sex industry and the dehumanization and abuse of those who work in it; the issue of contractualization or “endo”; the harassment of women. Brij Bautista really hits all the spots with this book, which is simultaneously a hard-hitting social commentary and an ultra-sweet romance.
Jo’s origin story is quite common in the urban poor areas of Manila. She came to the city looking for fame and fortune as a singer, only to fall into prostitution when no other work materialized. Sex work is fun, interesting, and easy money for wild and carefree Jo, who doesn’t believe in love or ‘The One’.
Liza is almost the exact opposite. A victim of supermarkets and department stores’ “endo” schemes (look it up, it’s a horrible practice that violates a metric shit ton of labor laws – and is also why I am SOOOO ANGRY with Fil-Ams who equate their Filipino-ness with liking Jollibee), Liza has always dreamt of marrying an American and being able to bring her family to the U.S.
Despite their differences, Liza and Jo are the best of friends. That all changes after an almost-kiss that leaves both their feelings in shambles. An added complication is the fact that Liza’s American boyfriend, Chris, has finally popped the question, promising to bring Liza and her whole family to the U.S. with them when they get married.
Gosh, you guys. I don’t even know where to start my review for this book. But it was just so wonderful that it honestly deserves my best effort, so here we go!
The relationship between Jo and Liza just felt so natural, and the chemistry was perfect. Best friends to lovers is my FAVORITE TROPE EVER, and Brij Bautista did it beautifully. I especially loved the whole self-searching journey Jo goes on towards the end of the book before she decides if she really wants to get together with Liza or not. It’s so in keeping with her cynical character that suddenly realizes her philosophy is wrong and she’s actually capable of love!
Another thing I loved about the romance in this book is the inevitable discussion of sacrificing one’s dreams in favor of your family’s ambitions. This is a common theme in most novels set in the Philippines. In a country where poverty is the norm and people often (misguidedly) decide to rely on their children to bail them out of poverty by becoming rich and/or famous. This is the case for Liza, whose family is relying on her to marry an American in order to get them all to the States. The book doesn’t shy away from discussing the fact that Liza being together with Jo instead of her American fiance essentially means tanking her family’s dreams, not to mention the realization on the part of Liza’s mother that putting this burden solely on Liza isn’t right.
If you’re looking for a compelling read that’s all about finding hope in the most hopeless of situations, finding love when you least expect it, and the eternal compromise between happiness and ambition, this is definitely the romance for you.
An entrancing novella from the Philippines, written by an author who’s a member of #romanceclass, a hashtag I had not heard of but which is huge in the Philippines. This is a HEA (or HFN at least) novella, focused on women who have sex with women and with men, who have sex for money or for marriage, and all of this is presented in a liberating unjudgemental way. It’s just no big deal. The sex is hot and consensual (a requirement for #romanceclass). The prose and the setting are gritty and real so the romance is all the sweeter for being tempered by real-life economic imperatives. Feelings are handled in a mature way: there is self-reflection, there is the acknowledgement that words don’t solve life.
Format: Kindle, good formatting, no typos.
Read for the Goodreads Reading Women 2019 challenge, rubric “novella”.
Not sure quite why I couldn't finish this. It was really well written, but it just didn't engage me. It took me weeks to get through half of it, even though it's a pretty short book. And I just wasn't feeling the chemistry between Jo and Liza at all, so I had no investment in the romance--maybe friends-to-lovers is just not my thing.
Wait, what? An f/f story that doesn't settle into cooing cuddles by 50% and proposals and babies by the epilogue? Two main characters who are allowed to be flawed and realistic and beset by genuinely impossible choices? A story where there's no villain other than life? A positive portrayal of sex work? I don't know what this madness is but I am here for it and I am definitely keeping an eye on this author.
(There were a few editing errors that really should have been caught, but I was so wrapped up in the story I didn't mind too much. It also doesn't really fit the mould - which I personally find too restrictive - of romance, since it's more about the characters as people and how their very complicated relationship fits into their lives. Again, 100% didn't mind, but it's definitely not an easy escapism story or a quick trip to happy smoochies.)
Loved the complexities of Jo and Liza. loved how Jo and Liza's sexuality was so normalized. It wasn't ever shown to be a problem for others.
Also at no time was Jo's profession as a sex worker ever demonized by the author, which I appreciated. Too many times I find little snide commentary that slip in painting sex workers in a terrible light but this was never the case here. There was one moment when one of Jo's dates learns what her job was and they aren't happy about it but i felt like Jo's reaction to that rejection was well done.
Jo and Liza's feelings are allowed to build and grow and at no time does Liza ever shame Jo for her job. In fact throughout the book they're with other people. Jo sleeps with her clients and Liza has these online relationships hoping for it to end with her being able to go to the U.S. I was also not sure how with Jo still agreeing to go on her trips and not being sure if/when she'd return, how it was all going to work out for Liza and Jo but the author made it work in my opinion!
This is a complicated messy book that both fascinated me and drew me in. Friends to lovers is a difficult trope to pull off, and when the two friends have such opposing goals in life, it's even harder. I liked the ending, and how they worked to figure themselves out as much as learning to love each other. Plus 'the mistress' was a brilliant character who glued the whole thing together in an unexpected, self-aware way.
Every so often a book comes along that subtly redefines the genre, and you wonder if everyone else has already registered this fact? Or if no one sees it yet, you need them to...like NOW. Anyone? See my tweets at: https://twitter.com/jen_hallock/statu...
3.5 stars Quite lovely romance about finding the line where the dreams we've been chasing meet the reality we live.
Content warnings include: cheating, sexual harassment, mild violence, sex work, sex on-page, hate against sex-workers; mentions of intimate partner violence/domestic abuse.
Liza and Jo, both living in Manila, have been best friends for years now. While sex worker Jo has come to terms with her dream of becoming a pop star never becoming reality, Liza is working hard towards her dream of marrying a rich foreigner, moving to the U.S. and giving herself and her family a better life. After countless breakups with her online boyfriends, Liza now finally found The One. But as things move closer to her dream coming true, the friendship between Jo and Liza is beginning to shift.
You, Me, U.S is a relatively fast read with a writing style that manages to be lyrical in how down to earth it is. I appreciated how short the book was - novella length I think - because I wasn't able to really focus on it. Had it been longer I might have lost interest, which is more my own fault than the book's I think. Yet I also wish some parts had been longer, as there are quite a few dumps of "oh btw here's all the background information to understand this scene", and some big events are just described over two pages instead of shown in their own scenes.
"Touch where it burns, provoke and prolong what feels good, stop when it hurts." • This is coming out next week !!! and I have to be one of those people who screams at everyone to GET THIS! LOL. I loved it! It was a little heavy and gritty compared to what I usually read, but then again it reflects a different Filipino experience that I knew existed, but haven't read in fiction, much less in romance, like this. • Jo is a sex worker (and this part of her is dealt without prejudice throughout the book; it's just her job, as it should be) and Liza is a saleslady who stuck in contractual hell and her only prospect of salvation is marrying her American fiance. This self-sacrifice is hard-hitting (and were the reason for most of my tears. Anything with family issues shoots me straight to the heart.) They share Jo's rented apartment for most of the story, and this is where their apparent attraction blossoms into a full romance. • I have to be honest, I went into this dreading the aspect of cheating described in the blurb. But Brij's masterful writing made it seem like the cheating was a mere technicality in the grand scheme of things bec the protagonists fcking deserve each other. They've been through so much, individually, that I wanted them to be together and be each other's respite. They cannot be faulted for their baggages and these in turn heightened the stakes of the relationship. I ~hated that the HFN didn't come sooner (give my bby's a break!) but it made so much sense that they had to work out their issues separately before returning to finally be in each others arms. I also want more of the HFN, but I'm still adding this to my 2019 faves, • "Here, under the slates of the ever-changing lights of the perya, they kissed. The kiss was the night, the world, and the universe. It was fireworks, It was "Bingo!" and shrill shrieks towards the gods of fortune." • *I received a Free ARC for an honest review from the author.
*This review also appears as a bookstagram on my IG: @bentchbites
This book was a short read, and it was captivating from start to finish. It manages to tackle so many issues: contractualization or "endo," the sex work industry in the Philippines, orientalism and the fetishization of Asian women, and of course, the quintessential "American dream."
It is a story, ultimately, of choice. Liza, as the breadwinner of a poor family, sees America as the ultimate goal, the one thing to work toward while working jobs that only last 6 months. Jo, an aspiring singer turned sex worker, tries her hardest to be supportive of her. Through all of Liza's breakups with afams and all the failed ploys to get to America, Jo is there. And the story revolves around their choices—the biggest one being to stay or to go.
I liked how all the issues were handled. Sex work wasn't romanticized as an easy way to get money, and all the ways it could go wrong was mentioned. America is portrayed as a ticket to riches, because that's how neocoloniasm portrays it, but Liza is also shown a harsh reality in the book that doesn't align with her ideas of a life abroad.
The romance itself is top-notch. Absolute best friends to lovers supremacy, and Jo's reaction to Liza's grand gesture made it even better. I like that they're really just two women who are grappling with a change in their friendship and indecision and the choice between love and financial security. The best part was that they didn't have to contend with homophobia amid their desire for each other.
It was realistic and tender and sweet, and I hope Jo opens up her heart even more and her dreams all come true.
I love a good old slow-burn romance but then again (who doesn't) the bigger reason I'm drawn to this book is the SOCIAL COMMENTARY. It's like a huge MIC DROP, lol. If you ever wonder what's going on on this side of the world where poverty and ~miseducation continue to prevail, this book is what's up. Coming from that phenomenal debut novel Don’t Tell My MotherDon't Tell My Mother, this author is once again bringing something new to the table, and the rest of us should sit back and enjoy.
When people do what they have to do to survive, it sometimes makes them not quite likable. I struggled to warm up to the two young women in this book, but the problem was me, not them. I was trying to understand them based on my experiences, and I just needed to let go of those and let these two tell me about themselves. Then I realized that they might not always be likable, but they are funny, and resourceful, and so very loyal. By the time I was a third of the way through I was cheering them on and wondering what a happy ending was going to look like for them. I love all the details here: from the rundown apartment, to the city streets - The people places and things that make a world come alive and differentiate one part of that world from another. Lots and lots of sensory details, smells, textures, Shapes. I think this is one of those books that I will get more out of if I reread it two or three more times.
This was a read that clung to me - I thought about it a lot when I wasn't reading it and once I'd finished. Interesting, well developed and complex characters who I rooted for as individuals and together.
For some reason I thought this was going to be YA, and I was pleasantly surprised that it wasn’t. An extremely fast read, the story follows two friends, Jo and Liza, who for the most of the book are also roommates and realize they are in love with each other, albeit not at the same time.
Jo is a sex worker whose clientele is both male and female, and she treats her job very matter-of-factly and without a shade of drama. I actually liked one of her female clients, whose name we never find out (we know her only as “the mistress”), who is wealthy and significantly older than Jo, and who treats her with warmth and dignity. I did like Liza, don’t get me wrong, but I wouldn’t have cried if Jo ended up with the mistress.
Liza works at a store and for most of the book is frantically looking for an American boyfriend who would be willing to marry her, take her to the United States, and ultimately invite also her family. Alas, Liza slowly – much slower than Jo – starts to realize that she is beginning to fall for her brash, resilient, funny roommate.
So this would be a simple enough story, if not for the setting, which is the Philippines – the Philippines of the common man and woman, not the touristy Philippines (although there is some of this, because of the American guys) or the Philippines I knew from the news or from the nonfiction books about the Marcos clan. It was incredibly interesting to see the day-to-day life of people in Manila or smaller places; for me it was the highlight of the book.
I loved Jo and the mistress. I liked Liza – I thought she seriously hurt someone who was really caring for her, and neither she nor the narration acknowledged it properly; but ultimately it wasn’t a dealbreaker for me. I’m very glad to have read this book.