Beautiful in its bravery, To the Sun, Moon, and Stars is the first book by Filipina author Cariza Opana. The book is a collection of poetry and prose from the author’s old blog, Paper Antlers (which has since been converted into a website for the book).
Filipina illustrator Elle Om divides the book into three sections – one each for the sun, the moon, and the stars. The cover and the dividers feature mournful girls in high-contrast black and white line art, which perfectly accompany the melancholy but gently hopeful tone of the writing.
Filipinas made this book happen!
To the inner child
Right off the bat, one of the book’s stark themes is life with depression. “Sometimes I will need you to love me a little bit louder,” Cariza says in Dear Stranger, and that simple, vulnerable, honest request throws open the door for a conversation about what it means to live with mental health issues. It’s a love poem, but it also says: this is the reality of living with depression, this is what happens after trauma, this is what you’re signing up for when you love somebody who struggles with that.
Depression isn’t explicitly name-dropped throughout the book, but you’ll find the experience sketched out in shadows on walls, homes filled with ghosts, and sad sunsets. You will watch her despair before a story even starts, doubt it will last as it happens, and decry her own nature as it ends. But she tries and tries again, and in the very act of living to write another day, this book is a testament to human resilience and survival.
To the romantic
Alliterations and natural figures of speech litter To the Sun, Moon, and Stars’ pages: “Tornadoes and tsunamis don’t go well together.” “I’ve learned to shape the chaos into constellations.” “I’ve met strangers on sidewalks and they were more familiar to me than your footsteps at my door.” You will notice Cariza’s writing tends towards the dramatic – which I personally enjoy, because I like my poetry like blooming-until-they’re-drooping flowers and not the cut-and-dried sort.
Many of the long proses are stories about real love. The Road to Ruin, for example, is a narrative of true events that has ironically resulted in a relationship that still endures today. Another of my favorites is Don’t Make Homes Out of People, in which Cariza’s wanderlust is challenged by the love offered by someone who makes staying worthwhile. It is when she blends the wistfulness of her good intentions with the wisdom of someone who has known a thousand disappointments that her work truly shines.
Despite the descriptions of the rises and falls of love, the pieces are not strictly romantic. Many are vague enough that they can be about anybody – The Art of Burning Bridges is a piece I personally would like to copy, highlight, and send out to people I’ve cut off for not being healthy company. The way the pieces are written allows you to extend the words outside romance, as friends and family can bring you joy or break your heart too.
To anyone who needs a friend
As a whole, To the Sun, Moon, and Stars feels like a chat with someone you’re comfortable being honest with. Eleven Steps on How to Not Need Somebody feels like a spilling of guts you’d have over tea about a confusing relationship; while Horoscope looks gently into the insecurities of each sign, and whispers reassurances that the soul secretly needs to hear.
While you may not necessarily find yourself reflected perfectly in each piece, it’s a comfort to know someone is speaking their truth. It’s told so plainly that you can’t help but listen; it’s told so bravely that it gives you the courage to speak your own.
You are not alone
To the Sun, Moon, and Stars is a book you’ll come back to when you’re lonely, because like the celestial figures it was named for, it makes you feel like somebody out there sees your struggle and you are not alone.
At this point, it’s responsible to disclose that I was blessed to have previewed this book before it was in print, as well as blessed to have received a copy of it before worldwide release. While I bar no holds about my affection and admiration for Cariza in the foreword I wrote for the book, I’ve tried to be more analytical about how I reviewed it. Poetry is subjective – by its very nature, poems march to the beat of their author’s drum and if that’s not your type of music, the words won’t dance for you. I wouldn’t make any one-dimensional generalizations about how a book so nuanced should make all of us feel.
I recommend that you read this book not because I am biased as Cariza’s friend, but because I know – with all the certainty of the sun, moon, and stars – that this book will be your friend too, as I am blessed that she is mine. □