My grandmother, sitting at her doily-covered table, marmalade on her cheek, explained that the aswang is all the evil bad things that a town or a society would want to deny--eventually it has to come out, has to be personified into something or the truth will reveal itself.
Marina Salles's life does not end the day she wakes up dead.
Instead, in the course of a moment, she is transformed into the stuff of myth, the stuff of her grandmother's old Filipino stories--an aswang. She spent her life on the margins, knowing very little about her own life, let alone the lives of others; she was shot like a pinball through a childhood of loss, a veteran of Child Protective Services and a survivor, but always reacting, watching from a distance. Death brings her into the hearts and minds of those she has known--even her killer--as she is able to access their memories and to see anew the meaning of her own. In the course of these pages she traces back through her life, finally able to see what led these lost souls to this crushingly inevitable conclusion.
Melissa Chadburn’s writing has appeared in The LA Times, NYT Book Review, NYRB, Longreads, Paris Review online, and dozens other places. Her essay on food insecurity was published in Best American Food Writing 2019. She’s done extensive reporting on the child welfare system and appears in the Netflix docuseries The Trials of Gabriel Fernandez. Her debut novel, A Tiny Upward Shove, is forthcoming with Farrar, Straus, & Giroux. She is a Ph.D. candidate at USC’s Creative Writing Program. Melissa is a worker lover and through her own work and literary citizenship strives to upend economic violence. Her mother taught her how to sharpen a pencil with a knife and she’s basically been doing that ever since.
The story begins with eighteen-year-old Marina Salles being murdered by Willie Pickton, a 45 year old pig farmer in Port Coquitlam, Canada. In the final throes of death, she transforms into an aswang – a mythical creature of Filipino folklore .This aswang has been connected to the women in Marina’s family for seven generations. It is believed that the aswang associated to a person’s lineage is activated when the person dies with a personal quest close to one’s heart that remains incomplete . The aswang needs to complete the host’s unfinished mission to detach itself from the family and move on and has access to the mind, body and memories of the host body, in this case Marina. As the aswang delves into Marina’s memories we get to know more about the circumstances that lead to her brutal murder. The aswang also explores Willie’s history and finds a pattern of abusive parenting, societal negligence and a history of violence that shapes his character and predatory behavior .The aswang has to choose between avenging Marina’s death and fulfilling the promise Marina had made to a friend - her incomplete quest.
The narrative takes us through Marina's early years with her Lola Virgie ,her unstable childhood with her mother's string of boyfriends and reckless behavior that ultimately results in Marina being removed from her mother's custody and becoming a ward of the State , placed in a foster care facility called The Pines. At The Pines she is befriended by Alex , a survivor of child abuse ,who shows her the ropes and teaches her how to fend for herself and navigate her way through the system that is designed to provide the bare minimum. Upon emancipation she promises Alex that she will help her track down her adoptive mother - a quest that leads her to Canada.
With compelling narrative and strong character development interwoven with Filipino folkore and magical realism, A Tiny Upward Shove by Melissa Chadburn is a hard-hitting and moving debut novel. I truly enjoyed reading the parts describing Filipino traditions, rituals and folklore .The segments describing child abuse, sexual violence and substance abuse are disturbing. The author’s note mentions that she has drawn from some real events and that the character of Willie Pickton in this novel is based on Robert ”Willy” Pickton ,the Canadian serial killer who confessed to killing 49 women.
The author shines in depicting the relationship dynamics between the female characters in the novel. Marina and Lola Virgie’s interactions are heartwarming and lend a touch of humor to what is otherwise a dark and heartbreaking story. Marina’s complicated relationship with her mother whom she loves and whose attention she craves is beautifully penned. Though initially motivated to secure a better life for herself and her daughter , Mutya’s negligent and self-serving actions wreak havoc in Marina’s life and the gradual disintegration of their relationship is heartbreaking . Mutya alternates between being a loving mother on one hand and a selfish and negligent one on the other ,who after losing custody of her daughter exhibits misguided optimism and indifference in respect to Marina’s fate. The friendship between Alex and Marina is characterized by moments of deep connection and codependence with bouts of self-destructive behavior. The author also sheds a light on shortcomings in child welfare services and the foster care system and how so many innocent lives fall through the cracks due to neglect and abuse. It is impossible to not be affected by this story . Please be sure to read the author's notes at the end of the book which provide further insight into some of the events and issues that inspired this work of fiction. I look forward to reading more of this author’s work in the future.
Thanks to NetGalley and Farrar, Straus, & Giroux for providing a digital review copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
this is the darkest, saddest, awfulest, most unbearable story, but it is so very real and so important.
technically it's magical realism, but the magic comes at a far second and there is no loveliness here - in fact, i wouldn't rely on the synopsis or marketing at all - but once i overcame my confusion i was able to appreciate this for the light it brings to untold stories.
a truly excellent debut.
bottom line: wow!
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murdered girl is transformed into a magic creature from filipino myth to undergo a quest that may or may not involve Revenge...
Wins the prize for the weirdest reading trip ever!
Phase 1: A beefy love affair. Language to die for. And look at me, hey, there’s even a mythological “angel” of sorts and I’m still digging it!
Phase 2: And then I’m not, and in a big way. The book suddenly seems too dense, the writer is trying too hard. The folklore myths and the angel parts both bore me and infuriate me. Why am I dipping my toes into such a deep magical realism pond, when I know that genre is usually a stretch for me? Angels and myths are not my buds. And then to top it off, I get to a couple of horribly gross and disturbing scenes (rape and animal violence) that turn my stomach…now WHY am I reading this?? This is the last straw. Has the book moved into the horror genre, too? There’s a farm animal scene that’s especially awful.
Phase 3: Skip-to-my-lou my darling. I start to skip, and I mean skip. Whole pages. I’ve had it. When I enter Skip City, I’m screaming hurry up, make this book be over! I start debating what book I should read next, and I’m mad I wasted my time on this dense and disturbing book.
Phase 4: Rationalizing my plan to do the deep DNF. Look, I’ve made my way through a third of the book. That’s plenty, thank you very much. Oh I’ve tried, I’ve really tried (I say dramatically, showing what a tragic situation it is for this martyr). I just can’t take it anymore. I am very pissed at this book. I knew I should have stayed away from myths or angels or whatever they are! I’m scowling and harrumphing. What was I thinking!? I’m so mad that I requested this book! I’m already planning my scathing review.
Phase 5: WTF? The love affair is on again. Oh, what a sneaky seducer this book is! I was totally planning to ditch it, as Phase 2 through 4 explains (phases? really? LOL). But when my Kindle opens to the page that I had left in disgust, my eyes (and I guess my heart and soul) start drinking up the words. What? My brain lights up, arms get tingly. All the sudden, I completely love this book!! Holy guacamole, it turned all spicy! My god, am I schizo?
Phase 6: The book has me in its clutches—I’m now an unashamed addict! I can’t stop—and I’m happy with every word every sentence every paragraph. It’s all pizazz. I love the characters, I love the feel of the story. The language sings, sometimes stream-of-conscious-y, always sophisticated and dark. The disturbing scenes aren’t freaking me out so much anymore. They seem integrated and necessary. (Well, most of them, anyway.)
Phase 7: Back to the skipped pages I go—and what??? Everything is suddenly interesting as hell, Skip City a distant memory. Now why on earth did I ever want to skip any of these brilliant pages?
Phase 8: Maybe time to call the shrink? Do I have a split personality?
So now I’m singing a different tune. This is an eff-ing masterpiece! Yep, it went from a 2-star to a 5-star read! Bizarro, I know. I did hesitate about whether I should give it 5 stars because this book is really dark; I can’t say this is a comfortable read. There’s a lot of abuse, including rape, and that was hard to stomach. Though the book does put on the brakes sometimes and let you breathe, there are still images in my mind that I’d like to erase. So consider this a warning: the book is pretty brutal.
The story is about a young woman, Marina, who dies. She turns into a mythological creature called an aswang, who is based on Filipino folklore and is sort of an angel. She has a mission to fight evil as she looks back on her life and death. She also looks at the life of a psychopath. I don’t want to say anything more because it’s best to go into this one blind. The angel is basically the narrator and not obtrusive in the least. No long diatribes about woo-woo stuff or her appearance. Sigh, who knew I could handle a float-y narrator?! I ended up loving her, of course!
Marina is portrayed with such compassion; she is a down-and-outer with a sucko life, and you can’t help but root for her. She has interesting (and heart-wrenching) relationships with her mom and her best friend. It’s great characters that grab me every time.
Despite my total about-face, I still think maybe the beginning is a little myth-heavy and dense. Not sure, though, since on re-read, it all seemed interesting. (LOL, I was in la-la land, what can I say?) And I had one small nit: Marina prepares a resume—I say no way Jose. She’s too much of a street dude-ette to have anything to do with resumes.
I recommend this book, but I can’t stress enough how dark it is. To me, it’s also so, so rich. (Even the cover is rich!) In language and feel and darkness, this book reminds me a bit of The Enchanted, another favorite of mine.
I’m still thinking about Marina and I imagine I will be for some time. I’m so dance-y happy that I happened to start reading that page instead of closing the book and starting another. Oh what I would have missed out on!
Trigger warnings: rape (including, but not limited to, child rape), drugs, abuse
This begins with the death of Marina Salles, a death that transforms her, that follows the myth, the stories, that come from her grandmother’s Filipino heritage. As she realizes her death is imminent, she says a prayer. A prayer she'd heard over and over. A prayer for light and love in the minds and hearts of men, for love and light to keep evil from prevailing. A death that transforms her into an aswang, a shape-shifting creature associated with myths, legends and stories.
We know this from the first words on the first page, as the story continues to share her story of her leap from one form of life into another, tracing her life back to her early years, before her life began to unravel. Her early childhood was spent with her grandmother and mother, and then their move away, leaving their home and her grandmother in Monterey, and the years that followed. The unraveling of her life. One event leads to another, the night spent left alone while her mother pursues other interests. Soon she ends up under the care of Child Protective Services, although that is just another wound for her to bear. While there, though, she meets the one person who will give her a reason to hold on to hope.
This is a beautifully written, if disturbing and dark story. It shares moments that sound minor as they begin to unfold, a parent’s refusal to see the truth, a desire to have a moment that is their own. A moment that ends up leaving lasting, life changing scars. The scars that create the myth that we are not worthy of love, of a better life or a chance at a better life. We are not worthy of love. We are not worthy.
There’s an element of this story that, for me, was reminiscent of Rene Denfeld’s writing, the beauty of her prose balancing the darkness, the injustice and abuse heaped on those who are unable to defend themselves, balanced by the breathtaking beauty in the way the story is shared.
The world can be a dark, disturbing and dangerous place. It is important to recognize and rail against the darkness hurled by the world. To seek the light, to extend grace, compassion, mercy and offer charity is essential to shine a light on the darkness.
Pub Date: 12 Apr 2022
Many thanks for the ARC provided by Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Audiobook….read by Kelsey Navarro ….10 hours and 28 minutes
WOW!!! What a beautifully written - debut! The author, Melissa Chadburn is ridiculously gifted. The thought that had to go into the way this book is written is pure mastermind artistry.
The content is disturbing - HORRIFIC devastation… (violence, murder, rape, abuse, drug addiction, abandonment, cruelty) but this novel is brilliantly affective in telling a revenge tale …. —it’s ‘very’ unusual & creative….. with an Aswang evil shape shifting folkloric creature…. who becomes the female heroine archetype who embodies all the many women who were victimized.
It’s shocking to digest that this novel was inspired by the most prolific serial killer, Willie Pickton, in Canadian history.
The poetic prose includes Tagalog inserted words (an Austronesian language spoken in Luzon and neighboring islands in the Philippines-Filipino)….and it’s stunningly remarkable what’s been created with this novel.
From Los Angeles to Vancouver - this was not your ‘run-of-the-mill’ coming-of-age….for a Marina Salles…. a Filipino young woman. Dead/murdered by age 18… we take a wild purposeful journey: retaliation!!! ….a little love joy too!
It’s raw - it’s brutal - [the darkest side of life] - and it’s FEARLESS!!
Wow, wow, wow. This book is unlike any I’ve read. The first words that come to mind: raw, gritty.
There is an energy and urgency to this book that is palpable, partly due to the literary techniques employed – often the deliberate use of run-on sentences, no quotation marks, sometimes missing punctuation and a stream-of-consciousness style.
But do not let that deter you (There are just as many 'traditionally constructed' sentences). I’m usually insanely bothered by some of these more experimental constructs, but, here, they worked, and they worked well – giving this book so much momentum, pain, and such a singular voice. I was so emotionally “in” this book from the start, and my connection never waned.
Some of the lovely language:
She had this kind of effect, a flash of pink among the moody trees at sunset.
Our people are lightbulb crunchers, bed-of-nails walkers, fire eaters. Every day is a circus in our jungles, alive with naked intent.
She was slick with the smell of jackfruit and Oil of Olay, still trying to slide back to all her womanly needs that were flushed away by the needs of her too-soft children and her greedy husband.
The room had the smell of wet cats and cooking meat. All the candles let off the conflicting scents of those perfume samples in magazines that Ma would rub all over her wrists before a date or job interview.
And, oh the heartbreak and yearning and disappointments foisted upon the young protagonists, and even the soul-crushing childhood of the ‘bad guy,’ who happens to be based on a real-life criminal. The story of Alex, the unraveling of Marina’s loss, the revelation of Willie’s upbringing … it is rendered in pitch-perfect detail and parceled out in just the right doses.
This is a story about individuals often seen as ‘disposable,’ the heartaches they suffer and the vicious cycles that often keep them chained to lives half-lived – suffering all too often in silence. At times, this book can be difficult to read with heavy topics including all forms of abuse, addiction, neglect, racism. But there are glimpses of light and tenderness, too – and a satisfying ending.
It is no easy feat to humanize a villain, and yet Chadburn does it with expertise.
If you love stories that explore myth and the fine line between myth and reality, this one is for you. A tremendous literary debut!
Many thanks to the publisher for an advance copy in exchange for an honest review. I will definitely read future work by Melissa Chadburn.
I appreciated the ambition of this book, in particular how it sheds light on the sexual and economic violence enacted onto indigenous women. I think Melissa Chadburn writes powerfully about the intersection of class and gender oppression. Unfortunately I didn’t love the structure of the book – I felt that the nonlinear writing style and the continuous shifting of perspectives detracted from the plot and character-building. Important content though. Also, the book contains graphic descriptions of childhood abuse including childhood sexual abuse.
“Something had united Willie and Marina. It wasn’t merely in where they came from but in where they were going and how they would get there.”
This can’t be a debut novel. It’s too spellbinding, too unflinching, too darn GOOD. I could sum up this review in just two words: READ IT!
It spans just about every genre you can think of: literary fiction, coming of age, social justice, Filipino mythology and serial murder fiction. Melissa Chadburn has a voice and style that is sui generis.
From the very first pages, we know that Willie, a “pakshet trick” kills Marina, described as a “throwaway” in a filthy room in a pig farm. We know something else, too: Marina didn’t totally die that day. Her body is taken over by an aswang, who has been passed down in her family line through heredity for seven generations. The aswang can only activate within a lineage when someone has died with unfinished business. This is the aswang’s final round: seven generations of duty, love and magic.
Marina indeed has unfinished business. In heartbreaking detail, we learn how and why Marina – who survived through a wrenching childhood and the totally dysfunctional U.S. Child Protective Services – did not survive her inevitable destiny. She may not realize it, but through her lost life, she steps closer and closer to her murderer, who is also lost and seeking a kind of mercy that life holds back from him.
The book derives its name from a scene in which young Marina is striving to save a bird that has gotten itself stuck in the water heater. Her Ma shoves the bird up into the fat drum of the heater until there is a crunching of bones. When Marina shakily asks her mother what she did, the answer is, “Just what we have to do, sweetie. Help a hurt thing on its way–a tiny upward shove.”
The symbolism of this line haunts the rest of the narrative. There are dizzying forays into some of the worst elements of humanity: societal apathy and carelessness, sexual violence and self-hatred, addiction and despair and every now and then, a glimpse of the power of connection and love.
I couldn’t put this book down. I didn’t want to put it down. And I envy every reader who is coming to it anew. My gratitude goes to Farrar, Straus and Giroux for introducing me to a new and mesmerizing author in exchange for an honest review.
Based on a real killer, the story begins with a woman murdered, triggering a kind of spirit to delve into the history of the killer and the victim to mine an understanding of what Justice might look like in a web of socio-economic tragedies that cascade into the inevitable conclusion of the book.
It does not shy away from, or cut to black, etc. really difficult subject matter, including sexual assault on minors. While sometimes really graphic they don’t feel gratuitous either. The author makes a note at the end saying that her research and reporting on missing, endangered, and murdered kids in social welfare and the connections to indigenous women are a throughline for the book, along with the real killer. It’s really, really difficult to read, and that is the point, imo.
A Tiny Upward Shove is a fictionalized account of a real life serial murder case that occurred in British Columbia, Canada. Canadians will instantly recognize the name Robert Pickton and 'pig farm, Port Coquitlam,' in association with a very grisly crime scene, the victims missing and murdered women from Vancouver's Downtown Eastside. https://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.c... A wider government inquiry was launched from the lengthy serial killer investigation, into the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG) in Canada, with a lengthy report and recommendations released on this critical human rights issue and systemic failures.
Accordingly, this novel has disturbing content which includes rape, sexual violence toward women and minors, drug use, separation of mothers from children by the state, sex trafficking, child neglect and abuse, racism, confinement, murder.
Onto this real life case, Melissa Chadburn has grafted a fictional backstory for Willie Pickton's forty-ninth victim - biracial American Marina Salles with a Filipino mother and Black absent father in the military. The text is liberally peppered with Tagalog. An omniscient narrator of Filipino folklore, a ferocious aswang, tells of how she has been in the maternal family for seven generations since the Spanish colonization of Phillipines. Young Marina grows up amid the teachings and admonishments of her lola (grandmother); how to behave as a female, how to get ahead in life.
I appreciate that the author is trying to highlight the socioeconomic disenfranchisement that led Marina to her ending. The issues confronting Vancouver Downtown Eastside then and now of prostitution, trafficking, drugs, mental illness are complex. The women who went missing were met with official apathy and indifference, falling through society's cracks.
I do have a few concerns: 1) This is a real life case with family and friends of the missing and murdered still suffering the pain and trauma. Some of the proposed memorializations of the victims in different forms have been shelved on request by the victims' families or community groups https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/britis... Note in particular that a painting exhibition and artist illustrations were both deemed distressing to the families. Did the families give permission for this literary rendering of their personal tragedy?
2) The main character Marina spends the majority of her teen years in Los Angeles, United States. She is in placement in her later teen years and after emancipation, lives on her own in LA before heading to Vancouver for a nebulous plot reason. A significant number of Pickton's victims were from First Nations communities https://toronto.citynews.ca/2007/01/2... and small Canadian towns.
a) I noticed in the text that Canada was written as if it was an amorphous blob country eg 'Early the next morning, Sabine and Alex left the house and drove home to Canada. Their house sat high on a hill where trees whistle,...' and 'First she knew she needed money for rent, then money for a train ticket to Canada.' Where in Canada?! Ten provinces, three northern territories. Very different distances.
b) For MMIWG, the discussion would have to be about the Indian Act of 1876, broken land treaties, reserves, residential schools, sixties scoop, intergenerational trauma. Because of the Filipino American backstory that the main character is given, we get instead Spaniard colonialist history and the Rodney King LA riots.
c) If we're going to delve into socioeconomic inequalities that ultimately led to the tragedy, then it should be about these Vancouver Eastside dwellers. The vast difference in worlds between East Vancouver and West Vancouver. The harm reduction tactics in use there like safe injection sites. The First Nations child welfare system. Housing unaffordability. The attitude and policing by the RCMP in the area, their ignoring of the initial reports of the crime because the witnesses were deemed 'unreliable.' Instead we get a detailed examination of the child welfare system in LA, child placements by the state and even exactly how much an emancipated teen gets for a stipend there. There are significant differences in the Canadian welfare system, Canadian health-care delivery, Canadian political systems, Canada's laws governing prostitution, Canada's labour standard regulations. Even if the author is more well-versed in American inequalities and the LA child welfare system, it is disingenuous to shoehorn and graft that onto a Canadian national tragedy.
3) A thirteen-year-old Marina I don't think I have to explain why this storyline is disturbing especially when police are already disinclined to believe rape victims.
Thanks to Farrar, Straus and Giroux for providing an eARC via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.
Extreme Content Warning: this was one of the hardest books I've ever read. It is the unsanitized truth of the fate of the missing and murdered, the forgotten, the unprotected. You might feel your soul float away from your body. It's an important story, well-told, but almost too brutal to bear.
An imperfect victim. Her perfectly irredeemable killer. With an unflinching eye powered by a transcendent heart, Melissa Chadburn gives them both something gloriously simple and tragically--for all us--rare: mercy, in the author's breathtaking debut novel A Tiny Upward Shove. In rich, evocative and sure-handed prose, Chadburn imbues all characters with a full, abundant, complicated humanity and shows the often dysfunctional, even cruel, society they must navigate. But this is no dark, torpid exercise into the muddy mire of trauma; A Tiny Upward Shove is an explosion of wildlowers in a neglected city block. The life--abundant, radiant, contradictory--in this novel in the face of so much darkness and desolation is a triumph and gift to readers. Powerful, haunting and completely, heartbreakingly alive, A Tiny Upward Shove is both a pager-turner and a literary treasure.
This story brings a Filipino mythical creature to life in an incredibly original way. Eighteen-year-old Marina Salles is strangled to death by a man named Willie on a pig farm, there is no peace in her final moments, her death is torturously painful, but she prays, making an invocation that turns her into Aswang. This author doesn’t shroud the brutal truths from the reader, not the abuses and crimes perpetuated against women and children, nor the rotten choices that put her characters on the trajectory for collision. Murder is not peaceful, it is a violent end and to make it anything less is the real fiction. Aswang are a myth spun to life in Filipino folklore, a monstrous creature, flesh eating shapeshifters who live as women during the day and appear as something different at night. It is the stories the lolas (grandmothers) tell, serving as warnings or lessons, as fairy tales in many cultures do, and each have their own version about the origins of aswang. Though there are three ways to become aswang, for Marina it is her unfinished business with life and family ties (going back to 1742). Why Marina is tied to this creature is explained as we discover her ancestor’s past. The aswang that has ‘passed through the doorway and stepped into Marina’s life’, can now see inside the body, mind and spirit. It is privy to visions, memories, Marina’s entire history, and every feeling she has ever had but the hunger for vengeance against the man who wronged Marina, that is the aswang’s own. What about Marina’s own want, far greater than bloodlust for her killer?
Melissa Chadburn has written about the horrors that most people turn away from. It is unsettling reading about inhumanity, there is a hidden part of our world that is just as ugly, violent, and immoral. It is a true story somewhere, the author tells us this herself. Ignoring it, denying the victims a voice, is to bury the crimes deeper. The world that the ‘throwaways’ exist in is revealed with each turn of the page. Marina wasn’t always lost to the streets, to dope, she once had a mother and father that made her, even if that fell apart. Back we reach into her past. For a time, she and her mutya (mother) live with her lola, in a small house in Seaside. Dazzled by Lola Virgie’s stories and superstitions, she learns about the spirit world. Lola teaches her about all the bad things that can happen, it stays with her always. She doesn’t have memories of life with just Ma, nor her deadbeat dad. Life is secure, if very controlled with her Lola’s lists of how to be, as no one has suffered as much as she has in life. Then her mutya meets a man named Mike, who looks through Marina, and it’s not long before the three of them move to Los Angeles, away from the only happiness she has known, under her Lola’s care.
Time gets harder, food more scarce, her mutya is becoming unstable, coming and going, leaving her alone- it’s a life of poverty. Just when she is back again, unsavory men enter the scene and what follows is a defilement of body and soul. While she is caught up in Child Protective Services, Marina’s one salvation is Alex, her bunkmate and fellow ward of the courts at The Pines. The facility feels more like a prison, a place of burning resentments and pain, luckily Alex is there to show her the ropes. Alex isn’t just a throwaway, her own history is just as dark and full of injustice involving an adoptive mother. As Marina’s mutya fails her, it is Alex who is always at her side. She learns things watching Alex hustle, that would likely break her Lola’s heart on the spot, and this is how life becomes about survival. Like all the children who disappear in the world, Marina is hungry for love and touch. It’s a sad life, but there is light. When she leaves The Pines, she is going to help Alex reconnect with someone special to her, it is her one duty, for the person she has come to love. But once she’s out, darkness fills her empty center. She turns to drugs, and men using her for their twisted desires, if only she can get clean enough to fulfill her promise.
Willie’s own life is purged on the page, how did this man who stores bodies and feeds them to pigs become such an evil villain? What sort of cruelties gives birth to such a monster? It isn’t easy to digest. Somehow he and Marina are tied. Does clarity about his own sufferings distort a call for vengeance?
This is exposure, of life in the underground, which exists outside the bubble so many of us live in. It is about children who never get to live in the light, who if lucky enough to survive into adulthood at all are forced to the streets, walking into the belly of the beast. It is also about women who put their faith in bad men. Mother’s who severely neglect their children. There is so much degeneracy throughout this tale, is it any wonder people numb themselves, sometimes the only escape? Children are the light and there isn’t any excuse under the sky for what happens to victims of violence and sexual abuse. Not ever. I don’t know that I would be capable of mercy.
A Tiny Upward Shove is an ambitious novel that intertwines Filipino folklore, murder, and the lasting traumas of the unwanted and forgotten women of the world. Marina, a sex worker, is murdered in the opening pages of the book by Willy Pickton (who is based on a real serial killer of the same name). At the moment of her untimely murder, an Aswang is called forth by her ancestral heritage. In Filipino folklore, an Aswang is a shape-shifting, mythical creature that attaches its spirit to a family for seven generations until it fulfills the unfinished business of the afflicted.
But how did Marina get there? Selling tricks to score another hit? This story is not a simple narrative of her life, but a deep look into a flawed system and a fractured humanity that led to another nameless murder. The author oscillates between the story of Marina’s Aswang seeking vengeance for her murder and the events that led to that singular moment. The brutality of the narrative doesn’t consume the reader, but rather penetrates the façade that every child is wanted and cared for. This is not an easy read, but it feels like a necessary one.
A Tiny Upward Shove is full of light and shadow. It is specific yet universal, full of daily struggles and overarching societal dysfunction. Full disclosure - I know the author from grad school. She’s always been a talented writer, but she has outdone herself with this novel. It’s clear from page one that we are in good hands and what a journey it is. She’s taken her reporting skills and her own time in the foster system to inform a richly sensory narrative spanning seven generations of women. There are no easy answers and the author skillfully engages with difficult and disturbing material weaving in Filipino folklore, all while reminding us that we look away at our own (societal) peril. It is not an easy or simple world we enter, but it is a deeply affecting one.
Thanks to Farrar, Straus, & Giroux and NetGalley for a digital review copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
This book envelopes you – the gorgeous prose, the impenetrable yet tantalizing darkness. You don’t simply open the book and turn pages; you disappear into it. I loved these characters and was invested in what happened to them in a way I haven’t been with a novel in a long while. Chadburn is a breathtaking storyteller and wordsmith. A Tiny Upward Shove will certainly go on my list of books to reread.
Marina, a victim of serial killer Robert Pickton becomes an aswang (Filipino vengeful spirit) and chronicles the histories and circumstances that lead her to such a dark fate.
This book is up there with A Little Life for being one of the most devastating, dark, and emotionally destructive books I've ever read (although I think this book does it much better). It left me SO shaken and truly at a loss for words. The depth of tragedy in the intertwining stories in this book is unfathomable, yet, is very much connected to events that could have/have actually happened.
My heart broke over and over and over again. I wanted to tear the pages out of the book several times and scream in rage and agony and grief.
The voices that narrate this book are so strong, so distinctive. I felt the resentment, the seething fury, and the deep deep well of pain behind much of the text. There is a lot that is distinctly Filipino as well, with lots of untranslated Tagalog throughout, and many many references to life as the child of a Filipino family. I think the thing that really kept me going is the incredible way Melissa Chadburn pieced this story together, and the powerful af writing style.
Absolutely unforgettable. I feel sick in my gut reflecting on it.
PLEASE take care and caution in choosing this book. It is potentially extremely triggering. The story is written with blood in its ink; with economic, physical, and sexual violence, the catastrophic failures of the foster care system, the opiod crisis, missing & murdered women, and the institutions that allow these things to continue, at the center of all of it. An absolutely shattering read that is VERY close to home for those of us living in so-called Vancouver..
I made a mistake when I first picked up this book, and that was deciding I could read it while absolutely exhausted and waiting for the women’s Australian Open final to finally start (go, Ash Barty!). I decided I was being unfair to the story — this sounded exactly like the kind of book I’d love and deserved more than a half-awake reader — so I decided to give the book another go the next day with a fresh start. And I’m so, so glad I did, because this was a tremendous read. It’s a slow book that needs to be savored, not a book you can power through while your eyelids are demanding to close and your brain feels a bit fuzzy.
The storyline in this book is brilliant; threads are woven together elegantly. And all the (heartbreaking) happenings are talked about unflinchingly. It’s not an easy book to read, but it’s not meant to be. The topics covered here are hard, but they’re real. And the whisper of mythology in the background adds to a haunting sense — both by the aswang, a creature from Filipino folklore, and what’s happening to the characters inside these pages. Everything is rough and vulgar and falling apart, but it’s written about in such beautiful fashion, which almost makes what’s happening worse. It creates intricacies to the mundane.
As much as I was able to really get into the book, it still took me a little time to do so on my second start. Once I was about 15 percent of the way through, I found a rhythm, and some of the issues I was having with the writing no longer bothered me. In general, I think I had a love-hate relationship with some of the writing. (Well, maybe more like love-dislike.) There were times I was left stunned by Melissa Chadburn’s writing — its musicality, its boldness, its almost onomatopoeia-like energy — but there were other times I felt like I could skip two pages of prose and not really miss much of the story. Some brilliant writing felt bogged down by six other very good lines, which lessened some of the impact for me. It feels weird to say a book was overwrought with beautiful language and imagery, but this occasionally felt like the case.
This book is jam-packed with heart and longing, and the languid and descriptive writing does well to create an atmosphere that matches the plot. There’s an interesting sense of timelessness, which makes it clear that this book could really be written at any point in our history. These struggles are human and are happening all around us — and they’ll continue to do so with the broken societal structures in place. This is a heart-rending tale of life and all its ugliness, but it’s also a beautiful story of family and humanity.
Special thanks to NetGalley; Farrar, Straus and Giroux; and Melissa Chadburn for proving me with an ARC of this book in exchange for my honest review.
“A Tiny Upward Shove”, debut novel by Melissa Chadburn, is full of languid and poetic prose punctuated with the music of Tagalog words. But I’m not going to lie: this story of how Marina Salles came to be murdered by a john is raw and vivid, entirely believable, and very important. The writing is simply so compelling that we cannot (and should not) look away.
According to the author blurb, Melissa Chadburn has reported on the child welfare system, so the reader understands that she brings authority and experience to these sad stories of abused and tossed aside girls/women.
Melissa Chadburn has chosen to employ a unique omniscient first-person narrator, “Aswang”, a Filipino folk spirit who inhabits Marina’s dead body and who tells us Marina’s story. I was soon able to see the wisdom and usefulness of this bold and unusual choice.
We learn about Marina’s family history, her childhood; the mother who only paid attention to her when she didn’t have a boyfriend, the inevitable rape, and the inevitable drug addiction along with the many many ways she was failed in order for her to end up underneath the “pakshet” man who is strangling her for his pleasure.
So yes, this is a beautifully written, tragic story of the fates of the forgotten and the miserable, about the abusive lives many girls/women suffer. Though it’s often difficult to contemplate, Chadburn bears witness to her characters with clear-eyed yet lyrical prose and a compassionate heart.
What a debut!
Thank you Farrar, Straus and Giroux, for a review copy in exchange for an honest review.
Where do I start with this book except to say that IT IS PHENOMENAL!!! This book follows Marina and interweaves the stories of her matriarchal line through an Aswang, a Filipino mythological creature. The Aswang is plucked from her sphere to avenge the wrongs of Marina (aka Reena) and the other Salles women.
This book is powerful. There is almost this unbearable sadness that runs through the whole book that weighs on the Aswang and the women throughout the world of the book. (I mean that in a good way, it pulled me through the story with my whole heart.) This book also shines a light on the real life horrors that happened to children that get lost in the system. That becomes the crux of the book even though the inciting event is focused on Reena and the serial killer, Willie Pickton.
The ending comes complete with a moment of respite, of a certain kind of joy, and still with a lot of sadness and grief for many of the characters. It was a really good way to wrap up the story.
I highly, highly recommend picking up A Tiny Upward Shove.
I genuinely loved the story. The plot was heart-wrenchingly beautiful, and the mythology of the aswang was well-researched. But I ended up rating it a 3 because of how the usage of Tagalog words and phrases was so very, very off. One issue that comes to mind is the liberal sprinkling of "pakshet" throughout the whole thing in places that grammatically make no sense. The awkward phrasings really impacted my enjoyment of the book, unfortunately.
Before reading this novel, I was not familiar with any Tagalog or Filipino folklore. Because of this, I had to pause a few times and research terms and phrases to get a better understanding of what was happening or being said. It was a very small inconvenience that was well worth the time it took. Marina was born to a Filipino mother, Mutya, and an unnamed Black man. She was raised by Mutya, or “Ma” and her grandmother, Lola Virgie, and they were Marina’s entire world.
Marina grew up in her grandmother’s house, The Plastic Palace. This was her place of refuge, stability, and love. The only family she had and knew lived within those walls and they meant everything to her. But Mutya wanted more, she didn’t want to just be a wife and mother like Lola Virgie. She had her own dreams but was poor so she put her hopes into men. And those hopes eventually led to her and Marina moving out. Over time, Mutya lost control of her life and her decisions affected Marina in the worst way possible. Now living in a group home called The Pines, Marina is struggling with being away from her family and thrown into a world that she quickly learns isn’t stable nor safe. She no longer knows her life and yearns for what any child in her situation would- love, affection, and family. Then she and Alex became friends and her new life begins. This is such a haunting and tragic story. Melissa Chadburn tore my heart out with her words and then ripped it into a million tiny pieces. My heart went out so many times while reading and yet I could not put this book down. Before reading A Tiny Upward Shove, I had never heard of Willie Pickett and all of the victims. I was unaware that there were so many missing, murdered, and kidnapped indigenous folkx. This story does an excellent job of showing just how awful of a job that the United States has and is doing of keeping children that are in its custody safe and failing at providing them with any true chance of a better future. It absolutely breaks my heart because even though Marina, Alex, and others in the story are fiction, there are real people who have endured or are enduring similar or worse trauma. Willie Pickett didn’t just one day decide to be horrible, his shitty life ultimately made him that way, and because nobody truly cares about the welfare of people of color, the poor, the disabled, the marginalized- more Willie Pickett’s are being created today. Hurt people, hurt people. Every main character in this story has a sad story.
Please be kind to yourself and look up content warnings if you are sensitive. Rape, especially child rape, is very graphic. Murder, abuse, child abuse and neglect, drugs, etc. I didn’t note all of them… but know that this is a very difficult book with a lot of triggers and look for them if you are sensitive to things.
That being said, this book was very good. I think it is a fantastic debut. The pacing felt slow to me at first, but after I adjusted to the “vignette” style of writing, it didn’t bother me. The last 20% of the book increased in pace quite a bit, but the ending was not rushed.
My only issue: While I think the author did a great job advocating for missing and murdered indigenous people, something about using an actual current person in a fictional book feels weird to me. It makes me uncomfortable as a reader. In this case, the real person is a serial killer who is currently imprisoned in Canada. People are still mourning lost loved ones that the man murdered. And many of them never even saw justice because so much of this case was swept under the rug by the Canadian government or ignored by Canadian law enforcement, as is often the case when the victims are First Nations and/or sex workers.
What do you think happens when your life flashes before your eyes? Where does that term come from and is that for the ones that survive?
As Marina lays dying she calls to the spirits for help with her last breath and her body is then inhabited by an Aswang. The nightmare creatures that every child heard of growing up. The reason you never left the house at night or did bad things cause you would get taken by one or turn into one.
This book tells the story of how Marina ended up in this horrible position from her childhood till now and it's raw and heartbreaking. Her journey from living with her loving but flighty mother to being separated into the horrific foster care system and what happened from there was just a nightmare of drugs and prostitution. Her mother still just didn't get it. I want to find people like her friend Alex's bio mother and give them a taste of their own medicine. I am still processing. How can there be monsters like this? I know there are but why, why pay the crap forward?!
This book makes me want to scream in the collective voices of all the women with no voices, that were lost to violence, that were not important enough to look for, that weren't the right color to put a sign up for, I hate that there are such things as grievable numbers or substantial enough numbers to investigate. Why isn't one enough and why does it matter if they lived on the street? Why does that invalidate their life at all?
There is a list of all the missing women at the end of this book from the Vancouver area because of this man. And just seeing all those names brought tears to my eyes.
I requested this book for the Filipino folklore but stayed for the gripping social commentary. Marina could be any of us at any time if we had been born in different circumstances or couldn't pay our rent or just ended up around a bunch of pakshets and they took advantage. No one is safe and until we all are safe we need to speak up for those who can't.
Thank you fsgbooks and netgalley for the e-ARC for my honest and voluntary review. TW: A lot
I first read Melissa Chadburn's writing on the internet a decade ago and immediately decided I had to know her, and it's such a thrill to read her novel, now--a searing, wrenching, painful, beautiful novel. And now I'm smiling at the promises to unionize all the institutions that she thanks in the Acknowledgements. Love.