"Spells and stories, urban legends and immigrant tales." That's how Small Beer Press describes Never Have I Ever, the new short story collection from Isabel Yap. And that's accurate.
I first discovered Isa's work in 2013, when we studied together at the Clarion Writer's Workshop with Cory Doctorow and other fantastic teachers. I still remember reading the first draft of "Have You Heard the One About Anamaria Marquez?" which would later be published in Nightmare magazine, and is included in this collection. And I still remember being left with chills by the way she imbued this "Bloody Mary"-esque high school horror story with an added aura of post-colonial dread.
It wasn't overwhelming or unsubtle, but Isa's Filipino upbringing permeated the work in a way that was refreshing and resonant. Her approach to magic felt more organic than many Western writers, as it naturally intertwined with, inspired, and evoked the language and culture contained within the stories. The ambient energy of the generational trauma from colonialism was ever-present too, lurking like a ghost in the shadows between her words. But more apparently, there was the heart — a sweetness in her characters, who yearn for a sense of affection and belonging that was just out of reach. Isa writes of universal fantasies and horrors — the simplicity, and the extremity, of unrequited loved; the bullying oppression of high school and Silicon Valley tech jobs alike — filtered through an irresistibly unique lens. A reviewer at Tor calls it "The looming horror and magic of what it is to be alive," and that's a pretty perfect way to explain why I still taste the heartbreak I felt when I was first read "A Cup of Salt Tears."
Never Have I Ever by Isabel Yap [IndieBound / Small Beer Press / Amazon]
"Have You Heard the One About Anamaria Marquez?" [Isabel Yap / Nightmare Magazine]
"A Cup of Salt Tears" [Isabel Yap / Tor.com]
Why Isabel Yap keeps coming back to fan fiction [Oliver Emocling / CNN Phillippines]