While there are many fantastic layers to Mae Respicio’s novel, Any Day with You, my favorite is her focus on family. In Any Day with You, twelve-year-old Kaia and her family are coming to grips with her great-grandfather’s decision to move back to his homeland in the Philippines. Respicio’s tale explores family love in its many forms. As part of that exploration, she sets a mood from the first paragraph that’s all about family, she explores many types of familial relationships, whether multi-generational, parental, sibling or found, and finally, she delves into the question of what makes a home.
THE MOOD IS FAMILY LOVE
Every novel sets a mood. Sometimes wonder, sometimes horror, sometimes humor. From her first two sentences, Respicio tells us this story’s mood will be all about family and family love.
I know the ocean first by smell, then by sight. It’s how my family always does it. (1)
On this first page, we join the main character, Kaia (through her viewpoint), along with her parents and siblings on an outing to the beach. By the second page, we know about Tatang, her ninety-year-old great-grandfather, and the stories he tells Kaia about his younger days in the Philippines, where he grew up. This is the last family outing before Kaia’s older sister, Lainey, leaves for the summer to study abroad in the Philippines. In the fall, she’s off to college. The outing sets the tone for the book: joy when the family is together and a bittersweetness as the main character comes to terms with all the changes that are happening in their lives. Lainey isn’t the only one moving away. Soon Kaia discovers that Tatang is also moving. He’s finally going home to the Philippines to stay.
So, how do you set a family mood in a book and never lose it? Respicio does it by literally (I checked) starting every chapter with a reference to a family member. (NOTE: A few chapters start with Kaia’s found-family, Trey and Abby, her best friends since preschool.)
Whether it’s Kaia thinking about her sister and great-grandfather as she experiments with her make-up artistry:
Lainey and Tatang have both been gone for nearly two weeks and I can’t wait for them to see how much better I’ve gotten. (11)
Or her introducing readers to her extended family:
We live in Santa Monica, a part of LA, but I have uncles and aunties and cousins and lolos and lolas all over Southern California. (19)
Or her showing us how close their extended family is:
When we get home for dinner, Uncle Roy’s at the kitchen island pulling cartons of Chinese food and fortune cookies from a large paper bag. Each week we try to have one meal with all of us here, even if it’s only takeout. (54)
Or her telling us all the things her big sister taught her:
⬝ Sit at whatever table you want because cliques are dumb.
⬝ You might wish you had blond hair, but one day you won’t.
⬝ Make friends in real life, not through your phone.
⬝ If you’re scared of doing something, it makes sense to try it once.
Or her giving us the backstory on Camp Art Attack and her best friends, Trey and Abby:
Camp happens at the high school near our house, and I’ve gone every summer since first grade with Trey and Abby. (38)
All of the chapters start with a family-focused thought or activity or memory. You cannot get through the first page of a chapter without hearing about some family member of Kaia’s. Bottom line, when you read Any Day with You, you feel awash in family love–whether multi-generational, extended, or found.
FAMILY IS MULTI-GENERATIONAL AND EXTENDED, PARENTAL, SIBLING and FOUND
Kaia has deep relationships with a wide swath of characters who are all family in one way or another. We get to meet a lot of them and Respicio does a great job of making all the characters feel real and important. This extended family lives and breathes inside the novel.
Much of the book is devoted to Kaia’s deep love for her great-grandfather, Tatang. Kaia is devastated that he’s moving home to the Philippines.
Tatang came to live with us when I was little, not long after Nanang Cora passed away…. I’ve never known anything but having a great-grandpa at home. (48)
Some kids at school think I’m weird for hanging out with a senior citizen, but I don’t mind. Once people get to know my great-grandpa they understand why he’s my best adventure buddy. (4)
Her life is filled with memories of her adventures with Tatang.
Hearing the ocean reminds me of a road trip we took to Big Sur when Tatang helped Lainey and me collect armfuls of shells. I was about seven or eight. We walked the water’s edge and stopped where the elephant seals gather, piled high, napping in the sunshine. The three of us tried to get near but they started honking at us. We dropped our treasures and took off running and scream-laughing down the shore. (197)
But while Kaia’s relationship with Tatang drives much of the story, all of her familial relationships matter, and each one plays an important and unique role. Here are some of the most important ones.
Her mom is the one who has given her a sense of culture and history:
Since Mom’s a professor in Asian American studies, I know a lot of things about my culture and its history, like how Filipinos were the first Asian group to land in the United States, or that the yo-yo was invented by a Filipino man named Pedro Flores and yo-yo means “come back, come back” in Tagalog… (100)
There’s that special feeling Kaia gets when she visits her dad’s work because she’s determined to follow him into the entertainment business:
Going to Dad’s office always feels like an adventure. … As we walk in I see my future: I’m head of a makeup effects department for big blockbuster movies. Mom and Dad and Toby will visit during lunchtime… (156)
Then there’s her tight relationship with her older sister even across an ocean:
Even though we’re separated by screens, we can still look each other in the eyes–and I know she’s telling me the truth.
We talk more about [Tatang’s] move, though mainly it’s me talking as [Lainey] listens and nods and asks questions. It’s almost like we’re in the same room together instead of across oceans. My heart swells, and for a little while I forget about losing. (190)
Uncle Roy is a fixture with the family and he, along with Tatang, provide fun and banter:
At home I find Uncle Roy and Tatang posing in matching headstands, their heads planted onto the cream-colored carpet, forearms firmly on the ground and feet up against the wall. Music plays–something with waterfalls and chirping birds. I Filipino-squat near them and Tatang grins. They gently lower themselves down and rest before sitting up. I reach for two bottles of water to hand them.
“I’ve still got it, huh, Roy-Roy?” Tatang says.
“Not bad for an old dude,” Uncle Roy says. (123)
There are so many great familial moments, including those between the found-family trio of Kaia, Trey and Abby when they finish the summer film project they’ve created as a team:
Inside I’m fireworks, but I say, “Not too shabby.”
“We’re… pretty dang awesome,” Abby says, equally calm.
We look at each other… and happy-scream at the top of our lungs.
Trey and I jump up and do a silly dance and Abby takes our picture before she stares back at the computer screen. (168)
Bottom line, Kaia is part of a close-knit extended family that is permanently entwined in specific ways with the events of her life.
THEME: WHAT IS HOME? (NOTE: SPOILERS BELOW)
In the first chapter, there are immediately clues as to what the story is about:
With Lainey going away to study abroad, there’s a bittersweet moment where she says:
“Aww, I wish I could watch the eclipse with you, Kai-Kai, but remember what Tatang always says.” Lainey clears her throat, stretches her arms like she’s hugging the air, and in her best imitation of our great-grandfather’s deep voice says: “Kaia, we all share the same sky, so when you’re looking up, you will know that I am too.” (5)
And then just a couple of pages later, Kaia’s mom has a teary moment over her oldest daughter heading off on her summer adventure and then to college:
Mom shakes her head but smiles through happy tears. “I had this memory of you playing here when you were little… And now you’re so grown-up.” (7)
Right away, Any Day with You tees up the idea that family might not always be together, but that they are always home in each other’s hearts.
Later, when Kaia is talking to her mom, she realizes that Tatang had to leave his home when he was young to come to America:
“Do you think Tatang felt bad when he left the Philippines for California?” I ask.
[Mom] looks surprised, but thoughtful. “It’s hard to leave what’s familiar, Kaia. He’s going back to his heart.”
It reminds me of a documentary that Lainey, Dad, and I watched about sea turtles. Certain species of sea turtles spend most of their time in the ocean but will return to their birthplace to lay eggs. Even if they’re thousands of miles away, they use the Earth’s magnetic field as a guide back to the place they’re always connected to. Home. (128)
When Lainey visits the Philippines, she gains more insight into why Tatang might want to move home, even though his family is in Southern California:
“But now that I’ve seen where he’s from, I get it. We’ve had him to ourselves for a long time, Kaia. This country is a part of him, and there’s a world of family and other people waiting for him here.” (190)
When Kaia thinks back on her young life, she realizes that it’s all about family:
Each perfect day of my life has had the same things: sunshine, waves, and my family near. How will I ever have that again without Lainey and Tatang? Everything’s changing. (197)
But soon after, Kaia finally comes to the realization that some things will never change, and she can tell Tatang that:
“The thing is, you’ve given our family so much, like a loving home and our start in this country, and the only reason I’m here is because of you. You taught me how to dream. I’ll miss you, but I’m glad you’re getting to go home. You’re my home, and that’s what makes it okay, because that will never change.” (202)
Respicio’s Any Day with You is drenched with the feeling of warmth and love that comes from a huge extended family that cares deeply for each other and is firmly entrenched in each other’s lives.
Some readers will relate to the story in a deeply personal way because they too come from a close, extended family. Whether they are culturally tied to the story or not, they will resonate emotionally. Others may read Any Day with You and draw hope and inspiration for what family can achieve in its purest form. Likely, many readers will feel a little bit of both.
From a craft perspective, you can use Any Day with You as mentor text for how to keep a mood going throughout an entire book, how to write deeply loving relationships, and how to tee up a theme and then circle back once your main character has grown in understanding.
- Consider the mood you are trying to set and brainstorm ways to set that mood from your very first paragraph. Then reinforce that mood chapter after chapter, scene after scene to the end.
- Think about your main character and how they relate to the other characters in your story. What can you do to help them feel deeply connected, whether the connection is familial or something else entirely?
- Think about how you can tee up your theme early in your novel and then revisit it throughout as your main character grows and changes.
If you enjoyed this post, check out this interview with Mae Respicio where she talks about craft. Also, here are two other posts that talk about setting a mood or feeling:
RETRO POST #7: MAKING READERS FEEL: REPETITION IN ORBITING JUPITER BY GARY D. SCHMIDT
RETRO POST #1: GIVING CHILDREN A SENSE OF WONDER: SWEEP BY JONATHAN AUXIER
Kristi Wright (co-editor) writes picture books and middle grade novels. Her goal as a writer is to give children a sense of wonder, a hopefulness about humanity, and a belief in their future. She is represented by Kurestin Armada at Root Literary. She is an active volunteer for SCBWI and a 12 X 12 member. Find her at www.kristiwrightauthor.com and on Twitter @KristiWrite.