Stay safe, read a book

PEOPLE - Joanne Rae M. Ramirez - The Philippine Star
Stay safe, read a book
Marga with her proud parents Pierre and Geraldine, and younger sister Patrice, 13.

With Omicron cases sweeping the world, making it impossible NOT to know anyone near and dear to you who has caught it, it is wise to take shelter in the safest place you know: your home, barring any non-isolated infections there.

Home is your refuge, and for now, your bubble. Bear your confinement with a book, if you must. I remember some of my childhood summers in my grandparents’ home in Bongabon, Oriental Mindoro. At the time, electricity would come only at 6 p.m., just about the time the church bells tolled for the Angelus.

Before that, with no television to watch cartoons, I would read a book, or one of my grandfather’s volumes of Classics Illustrated, or my grandmother’s weekly Women’s magazine. Reading inspired me to be a writer. I would say my love for the printed word was one of the best things that came out of those seemingly slow days in the seaside town of Bongabon, where I would await the sound of the clock striking a new hour, as if it would hurry up the daylight so the power would come and I could watch TV at 6 p.m. Till I discovered the unfathomable joys of reading.

Fast forward to the age of the pandemic, where, except for heroic frontliners, time has had to slow down and take a collective pause. Thank God for technology that enables many of us to work from home, and a good ol’ book to bury ourselves in as an alternative to K-Drama and our eyes playing pingpong with subtitles.


The past two years must have been challenging for active teenagers who love to explore not just the malls, but the world.  How to keep restless, talented teenagers home when they have perhaps surfed not just the Net but the waves in many beaches here and abroad and ogled masterpieces in the British Museum?

One teenager I know decided to write a novel. When life threw her lemons with the pandemic, 16-year-old Marga Monserrate, inspired by a love letter she made, then wrote a full-length novel, and surprised everyone with how she did it.  A year later, at 17, she publishes her debut novel.

Marga, daughter of Pierre and Geraldine Monserrate, spent most of her childhood years in Australia where she learned independence while being steeped in practical values from her parents. A hopeless romantic, the statuesque Marga is outgoing, articulate, and driven. Currently finishing high school, she plans to take up business management in university. If you can’t find her biking, exercising or on the basketball court, you can find her snuggled in bed, reading a romance novel or watching a rom-com.

Aside from the professional assistance of an editor, and her publishers, Marga did everything on her own — from conceptualizing, to designing the teasers and her book launch, which was held pre-Omicron at the Milky Way restaurant in Makati.

A romance with six twists! You may message Marga directly through IG and Messenger.

Her novel is titled, It Was A PleasureTo Be Yours, Arabella Brown, a love story narrated by three characters: Arabella, Carter and Spencer. The latter are the two corners of the love triangle that is the heart and soul of the novel, which is also a modern Romeo and Juliet set in the chic side of Los Angeles. Written in impeccable English and with a breezy style, it is full of twists, wows, quaffs, a few tears, promises, flashbacks, forgiveness, and one promising new life! Most romance novels have three twists, It was a Pleasure to be Yours, Arabella Brown, has six, making this whole rollercoaster ride all the more exciting.

Having passed through my own “someday-my-prince-will-come” stage via Mills & Boon and occasionally, Barbara Cartland novels, I found myself enjoying Marga’s book even if I am surely not in her target audience anymore. LOL. I would say it is more high-brow than Mills & Boon, and more relatable than Barbara Cartland. Marga’s detailed portrayal of modern-day Los Angeles’ crème dela crème is riveting. There are maids and butlers, but there are also laptops and smart phones, so you know that despite the old-world traditions, you’re in the age of BTS (pre-pandemic, that is).

I asked Marga if the fictional Arabella, who is half-Filipino, is based on any particular historical character, or completely a product of her imagination?

“I think of Arabella as my baby, as many people who know me well have told me that our personalities are quite similar,” she says. “That being said, I have unconsciously based Arabella’s character on me. From us being hopeless romantics, to both of us dreaming beyond the universe, Arabella has become one of the reflections of how I see myself.  But her physical and some of her intellectual traits all came from my imagination. Arabella’s character gave life to the experiences I hope to experience one day: graduating from a good university, falling in love with the right man, successful and overall, happy.”

Seventeen-year-old Marga Monserrate during the launch of her first book, It Was a Pleasure to be Yours, Arabella Brown, a romantic novel.

As to why she chose characters belonging to the world of balls, galas, and arranged unions, Marga says, “As the world is evolving, I personally feel like norms during the historical romantic period are making a comeback. Practices like marrying for the sake of the family, or set career paths are so common these days. Hence, this is why I chose to put a modern twist to it, making the story more enjoyable, relatable and realistic.”

Though the novel makes no mention of the pandemic, Marga hopes it will offer readers a reprieve from the world’s worries.

“The story is set in the present, without the pandemic. I saw writing this story as an escape from the world, especially this pandemic. So, I hope my readers will do the same — take a break from this world while reading my book, and always have hope that brighter days are coming.  Life will go on for all of us.”

As to who Arabella chooses in the end — her first love (Carter) or the man her father wants her to marry (Spencer) — is a conclusion you will never know till the very end, which, in a surprising twist typical of Marga’s style, could just be the beginning.

(You may e-mail me at joanneraeramirez @yahoo.com. Follow me on Instagram @joanneraeramirez.)


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