by Mina V. Esguerra
Series: Six 32 Central #1
Publisher: Bright Girl Books
Publication Date: May 31, 2018
I received this book for free from Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
It's a bad day for Ben. After years of earnest work, he's been fired from his job as a speechwriter for a Philippine senator. Name tarnished and bridges burned, he steps into what he thinks is a shuttle ride home, and accidentally joins a tour of his own city.
It was supposed to be a good day for Naya. Her passion is traveling, her hobby is discovering cool things to see and do, and taking people on tours of Metro Manila is her only job right now. An extra person at the last minute isn't ideal, especially if the person is a former colleague and the subject of the day's hottest political trash fire. But work is work, and she decides to let him stay in the tour.
She's hoping she won't regret it. He's hoping his day turns around. What kind of day could it be? Maybe the best kind.
Oh this is so cute! It takes place over three days (well, four counting the epilogue) spread out over the course of a few months. This is the first time I’ve read a book set in the Philippines, and I really enjoyed it. For such a short novel, it’s also surprisingly deep.
“All right,” she said. “And you can call me Naya.”
“I’m Ben. And if my presence makes you uncomfortable, you don’t need to call me anything. I will be quiet as a mouse.”
“I don’t like mice.”
“I will be as quiet as your favorite quiet thing.”
Naya’s a freelance tour guide in Manila. Her tours have ridiculous waitlists (and a ridiculous cost), but she loves showing off all the facets of her beloved city, with a focus on creative arts. After getting fired from his speechwriter, Ben mistakenly hops on her tour bus, thinking it’s just a shuttle, and then opts to take the tour, thinking he’ll just zone out. Almost against his will, though, he gets drawn into the tour and spending time with Naya. It’s such a sweet meet-cute, and in such an unexpected place! They have instant chemistry – helped by the fact that they eventually figure out they worked together before – though after the initial “travel fling” – as Naya describes it – the romance turns into more of a slow-burn.
“So many people working so hard to take a freaking baby step. So many things were so difficult, and she wasn’t sure if it was the world changing, or just that she got older and saw it for what it was. The idea that you could do that thing you love and change the world…did that really happen? Because if no one ever found out about it, then what world did it change? Naya thought of all the artists who stopped creating, just among those she knew of. All the well-meaning establishments, all the non-profits, all the tour concepts, travel-more campaigns…coming and going, whimpers in the greater noise of a world generally not caring about any of this.”
One of my favorite things about the book was both character’s soul-searching about their jobs. Ben, of course, being newly jobless, is understandably worrying about what to do next. He’s highly principled and moral, and even after being unjustly fired, he still speaks highly of his senator. Naya, on the other hand, despite being apparently gainfully employed, continuously insists that her tour company is just an “income-generating hobby,” just a sort of stop-gap until she can find her “adult” job. At one point, she, too, worked for the government as part of a tourism initiative (and actually knew Ben from her government work), but she literally rage-quit when she realized that all they were interested in promoting was a fairy-tale version of Manila devoid of any of its character. I loved rage-quit Naya – the Naya who’s not afraid to speak her mind – and in that way she was a perfect match for Ben. They both struggle with the balance of doing something they love versus something that will pay the bills. Since this takes place over the course of a few months, we get to check in on Naya and Ben as they come to terms with their jobs and hopes for the future.
Overall, I loved the characters and the setting, and will definitely be looking up more of Ms. Esguerra’s books!