Whee! Here's another review in time for #BuwanNgMgaAkdangPinoy :-)
Disclaimer: The author and I first 'met' on social media, but were able to meet up recently when she and a friend visited Tokyo. And though we had tons of fun in the few hours we managed to spend together, this does not in any way affect my review of her book :-) (Naaaks!)
Songs of Our Breakup
by Jay E. Tria
Every breakup has its playlist.
How do you get over a seven-year relationship? 21-year-old Jill is trying to find out. But moving on is a harder job when Kim, her ex-boyfriend, is the lead guitarist of the band, and Jill is the vocalist. Every song they play together feels like slicing open a barely healed tattoo.
Jill’s best friend Miki says she will be out of this gloom soon. Breakups have a probation period, he says. Jill is on the last month of hers and Miki is patiently keeping her company.
But the real silver lining is Shinta. Having a hot Japanese actor friend in times like these is a welcome distraction. This gorgeous celebrity has been defying time zones and distance through the years to be there for Jill. Now he is here, physically present, and together, he and Jill go through old lyrics, vivid memories, walks in the rain, and bottles of beer. Together they try to answer the question: what do you do when forever ends?
April 21, Tuesday, midnight
She could draw his face easily if she had a drawing hand. The straight nose, almond-shaped eyes—rich and deep as dark chocolate, the strong jaw, and the jet black hair that swayed as if remembering the hands of its last stylist.
Jill pulled her coffee tumbler closer to her chest with fists—coffee that Shinta paid for, after all—and took a loud sip. Innumerable swarms of girls in Asia would die of heart failure if they could sit around a small round table in front of him, close enough to see that the long lashes were real. Her own heart was playing a mad drumbeat inside her rib cage. Having known Shinta for years didn’t make him any less godlike in her eyes. It only made her less embarrassed to stare at him.
Already their neighboring caffeine consumers were speaking in rapid murmurs, darting covert looks and batting eyelashes at him. Was everyone updated in Japanese cinema now too, or was it only because he was beautiful?
Shinta kept his eyes on his own frappe, slurping. “What?”
Jill slurped back, her eyes darting to his full lips, wet from his coffee. “It always feels weird seeing you here.”
His eyes flicked up. A pucker of whipped cream was resting on his upper lip. “At a coffee shop?”
“In this side of the Pacific Ocean.”
“I was here just this New Year’s, remember?” Shinta said, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand. “And hey, I’m part-Filipino.”
Jill’s eyes left his mouth to fix him a glare. She frowned. “Your parents were both born in Kodaira, Tokyo.”
“My mother has been teaching in a Philippine state university for the past fifteen years.”
Jill began a slow smile. She’s heard this speech before.
“That has to count for something.”
“Lodging and an easy scholarship, sure.” She bit her straw. “Citizenship too, you think?”
“And a nickname with an extra H.”
He laughed. “Jhill.”
He gnawed his straw, and together they slurped, punching teeth-shaped holes on the green plastic.
Shinta was already a hot movie star when Jill first met him. It was three years ago at a music festival in Tokyo. Trainman had played four songs in two languages their audience did not understand but still jumped and danced to. Shinta had crept backstage afterwards—trailed closely by a line of his fans—and stood there among them, towering, long-limbed and luminous, a stark contrast to their post-set grit and sweat. He spoke to them in fluent English—having an English literature major for a mother must have helped—inviting them for beer and asking for autographs.
It seemed like a normal occurrence under those absurd circumstances, so a friendship between the six of them was inevitable. There were other music festivals, small gigs, a vacation to Japan that left her and her bandmates broke for six months, Shinta’s visits to his expatriate mother, and blackout nights over the deadly mix of sake and Kirin.
Still, there were times like now when Jill would think, wow, a hot Japanese idol paid for my grande.
“How’s your mother?” Shinta’s voice broke into her thoughts.
“Still in love with you,” Jill said sulkily.
Shinta beamed. There was a time when Jill’s mother openly stated that she liked Shinta over Kim, as if there was even a contest. Jill thought that wasn’t fair. Shinta must have won her mother over with those matcha products and queer anti-aging implements he always brought her.
“Sometimes I think if she could choose her only child, she’d want it to be you,” Jill mused darkly.
“Better that than I become your brother!” Shinta exclaimed, pulling a face. “Hey we should invite her to my mother’s party.”
“Don’t you dare,” Jill hissed. “I said no,” she said firmly when Shinta opened his mouth to protest.
Shinta chuckled, then returned to his coffee, slurping while scanning her face. “I wanted to come here earlier,” he said in a quieter voice. “I wanted to see you.”
“Well you had that TV show to shoot, and that fan meeting. Then you had that stalker situation.” Jill waved her hand in the air as she enumerated. These actor problems. “Did you ever get your sock drawer back from the culprit?”
“No.” Shinta frowned. Jill knew he liked those socks. “But I got a restraining order.”
“Good enough. Anyway, you’re not late for your mom’s birthday. Which I’ve heard is your first one here since you were fourteen, because your mom won’t shut up about it. My mom was never that excited when it was her turn to throw the big 5-0 party.” She paused, thinking. “I haven’t been Professor Mori’s student for three years. I’m breaking some kind of student-teacher code here about post-class relations.”
“It’s your fault,” he said. “You encouraged her too much. She thinks she’s responsible for the success of your debut album.”
Jill grinned. She, Kim, Miki, Son, and Nino took Professor Mori’s Creative Writing class in their sophomore year in university. They wrote songs for homework on fiction, songs for non-fiction, songs for poetry and haiku. They were able to write their debut album in one semester. It was an indie success story.
“Well she kind of is. And I did get a 1.0 for my final project.”
She felt it was very important to say this. She was as proud of that as of her 1.0 in Development Economics, and her teacher there was an iron lady.
“You bribed her with future concert tickets,” Shinta pointed out. “For when you sell out coliseums.”
Jill grinned. “She might have to hold on to that promise for a while. Although I don’t think she minds. She has a soft spot for Miki.”
Shinta started drumming his fingers on the table to a familiar beat. “While I stumble on the floor of your room/Flushed when you look at me/While I look in the glass and see no one there/Still you’d make me believe…”
Shinta smiled, leaning towards her. “That’s a great song.”
An easy blush spotted on her cheeks, her hands suddenly cold at the small breathing space Shinta held between them, but Jill’s frown came easier. Why did Shinta have to pick the lines Kim wrote? She wrote the next stanza. He could have sung that.
“What?” Shinta nudged her elbow.
“You’re not a very good singer.”
“Sorry, I’m just a fan,” he said, laughing.
Jill leaned back against her seat and returned to slurping her coffee.
“You’re glaring at the slushy bits,” Shinta said.
Jill slurped louder.
“They didn’t do anything to you,” he went on.
Shinta planted his chin on one palm. “While I get tangled, awkward in your sheets/ Scared as you come to me/ While I close my eyes and see no one there/Still you say, I’m here.”
Grudgingly, Jill fixed him a stare. His evil smolder was in place and her breath caught in her throat. The words she wrote suddenly sounded sexy. She thought she heard a girl from the nearby table swoon.
“You’re already a famous actor with fan clubs across Asia,” she shot at him. “Don’t be an overachiever.”
Shinta started laughing, raucous peals that echoed through the coffee shop’s walls and drew even more attention from the already ogling patrons. She wasn’t even trying to be funny. Shinta was now slapping his thighs to the tune of his guffaws, and Jill’s only comfort was her coffee jelly.
“I’m taking you home now to your mother,” Jill grumbled.
“Wakata, wakata-ne.” Shinta nodded in efforts to restrain his laughter. “I guess the jet lag is getting to me after all.”
“It was a four-hour flight, you wimp.”
Shinta pulled her chair back as she stood, catching her car keys before they hit the floor again.
“At least I know my mother missed me,” he said, depositing the keys on her palm and closing her fingers around them. He pivoted to the glass doors.
“I’m not falling for that,” Jill called out as she followed Shinta to her car.
It was a quiet drive from there as the pains of Shinta’s cross-ocean commute seemed to catch up with him. The Strokes’ Clampdown was on repeat in Jill’s music player, the only sound between them. He worked very hard to keep his eyes open, alternating between watching the dancing lights on the streets and watching Jill shift gears from third to fourth and back. When they parked in front of his mother’s house, he had successfully evaded sleep in the entire 30-minute race.
“Can you please drive slower on your way home?” Shinta peeked at her through the open window as he stood outside, bag in tow.
“But this is the only time when there’s no traffic.”
“Didn’t you say you’ve had premonitions about dying in a car crash?”
“Fears,” Jill corrected him. “Fears are different from premonitions.”
Shinta frowned. “Fine.” He walked the couple meters past the gate, where the porch light illuminated the door to his mother’s house.
He looked back. “Jill!”
She looked out the passenger window. “Shinta?”
To Jill, Shinta looked curious from this short distance. “You don’t look very horrible, for a person with a broken heart.”
His mouth lifted in one corner. “You’re welcome.” He gave her a small bow. “Good morning.”
“Don’t get lost on your way in!”
“I’ll call you if I do,” he said as he went through the door, waving back at her.
When the door closed the porch light went off too, and Jill thought she heard the distinct sound of a mother’s excited squealing. She lunged on the gas and drove off, a smile stretching across her face as she sang the old song that Shinta liked at the top of her voice.
Fact. Breakups are harsh.
They’re even more so when you’re forced to work with the person who broke your heart on an almost daily basis. And that’s the situation that Jill, the protagonist finds herself in.
The narrative starts off a bit edgy and confusing—reflective of Jill’s state of mind as she braces herself to perform onstage with her ex, Kim. The music is an escape, and Jill tries to lose herself in the exhilaration of the performance. But at the same time, the songs are a painful reminder of her past—she and Kim wrote most of their band’s songs after all.
But then Shinta comes onto the scene.
All at once, you feel the dark cloud lift and the narrative picks up as Jill comes to terms with her breakup and begins to move on.
Jill was a complex character---sarcastic and funny, a keen observer, yet was totally clueless about some things. I liked how she was slowly able to let go of her hurt and bitterness . . . showing that moving on is a conscious decision that comes from within. I like how the author showed glimpses into Jill and Kim’s history, thereby justifying the difficulty Jill experienced in letting go of her first love. Their struggles were relatable and real.
I just loved how steady and sweet Shinta’s character was . . . how he waited patiently for Jill, how he was simply there for her, and how he understood her . . . er, not-so-social tendencies. And please, when I learned the author used Oguri Shun as a peg, I fell in love with Shinta on the spot :-)
But really, this book should really come with its own soundtrack :-)
About Jay E. Tria
Jay E. Tria writes contemporary Young Adult and New Adult romances about characters that live inside her head, about people she meets and people she wishes to meet. She also reads, daydreams, and blogs. She loves skinny jeans, sneakers, and live gigs. Also, adopted cats. She is not a cool kid.
Blossom Among Flowers, a Japanese high school love story, is her first completed work.