Carlos Malvar’s Roles

In his recently published novel entitled Roles, Carlos Malvar attempts to capture the present realities and sensibilities of Manila’s higher-class, young adult generation through deploying a set of familiar high school characters in the fictionalized yet familiar-sounding exclusive school named “The Montessori of Asia and the Pacific”. Knowing the setting and the title and reading the first chapter of the novel are enough to predict how this work is projected to pursue: every character amounts to and plays a specific role, and every role will be given detachable blocks of substories to give way for character and plot development.

It is interesting to point out though that the title Roles also explores the idea of the plot ironically resonating itself inside an inner plot. In this novel, the characters are united by the challenge to join the auditions of the reality show “You’re It,” but the reality show actually already starts at the very beginning of the novel, the omniscient lenses of the chameleon narrator catching every role that every character plays.

The Quest for Stardom

Strip off specific names and references to pop culture and the novel gives the readers character types that they themselves have encountered (or are presently encountering) in their own high school, acting out exactly (sometimes exaggeratingly) what the readers are expecting them to act out:

The Bitchy Girls (Astrud Quinton and Michelle Lim), characters who are always members of the cheerleading team, and very absorbed with their fashion style, make-up and attraction level to cute guys; The Intelligent Girls (Tina Donato and Vanilyn Apanay), who are so obsessed with their intellectual popularity and political authority over the student body; The Athletes (Jason Lastimosa), the tall, charming and handsome basketball star born and genetically chosen to be the campus’ center of attraction; The Boy Next Door (Nathan Manaloto), the smart, romantic, cute guy neighbor whose personality is serious enough to be the leader of the horde and boyishly naughty enough to ensnare many girls’ hearts; The Virgin Prostitute (Olivia Schaultz), the pretty girl caught by the dirty and sinful claws of poverty but who’s actually clean and righteous and kindhearted and all; and the Cunning Stage Mother (Sussana Schaultz), who climbs her family up the social ladder by taking advantage of the attractive (sexual) potentials of her children.

The novel seems to comment on how today’s young adult population, particularly those in the metropolitan chi-chi jungles, is becoming more and more exposed to casual sex, alcoholism, smoking, and drug addiction (stark realities that are not acknowledged in the recent Disney hype of the empire, High School Musical 1 and 2). Moreover, by setting the narrative on the upcoming auditions of a reality show, the novel points out how the consciousness of this generation, as expressed by the motives and ambitions of its characters, has been deeply instilled with the fetish for glitz and glamour, as brought by the countless and endless star-search reality programs bombarding the primetime slots of television networks.

Young Adult Gay Fiction

As enumerated above, the characters in Malvar’s novel are not new to literary readers. The bitch, the geek, the basketball star and other generic figures are already seen in hollywood teen flicks and teen fiction. What makes Roles remarkable, however, is the clever exploration of adolescent homoerotic desire, the narrative framing of which is carefully and thoroughly rendered in the character of Orestes Dizon and his object of affection, his childhood best friend Jason Lastimosa.

It is interesting to note how a novel flowing with stereotypes tries to de-stereotype the stereotypical sissy portrayal of a teenage gay guy, replacing it with a straight-acting, tough character who’s actually ‘one of the rowdy boys,’a project that, it should be admitted, is also not new, having done by oter Filipino gay writers in the past (see for instance, Groyon’s Boys who Like Boys, and other coming-of-age stories in the Ladlad trilogy).

At the end of the book, the writer extends his gratitude to Carla Pacis and Heidi Abad, established vanguards of children’s literature in the country. Contextualizing Roles in the frame of Philippine young adult literature and considering that the novel is meant to be read by adolescent readers radicalizes and makes Malvar’s work one of the first Filipino young adult novels in English illuminating the issues on homosexual identity, debunking the common gender misconceptions in the minds of its readers and encouraging people like Orestes “to be themselves”.


8 responses to “Carlos Malvar’s Roles

  1. I actually made a book report on this book.
    It inspired me. I agree that adolescents like me should read this beacuse it helps us realize things we don’t actually see and experience. We may never know that in school, there are some people who keep secrets within themselves and that parents are great factors of what a student’s life would be. 🙂

  2. can u help me with this……
    do you have a blue print about this or do you have a copy of this novel in filipino acsent…
    i realy need it …thanks a lot..

  3. jhazmine gumangan

    i love your book i even used it on my book report in my english subject

  4. i like the secret twists in the story…

    it made me realized that these things were actually happening nowadays.

    i hope you’ll write more interesting books…

    thank you.

  5. I also made a book review with this one. I gave it a B+ and left me with these points

    1. It’s real, I mean ‘dark real’, that the issues mentioned in Roles are just as common as buying a newspaper in a store in the youth world. And it’s sad that these are real, especially if the setting is at the urban area.

    2. At first, I thought that this will be another saccharine and lousy book written by a rookie but like you have said in your review, it’s on the near opposite of the wholesome but too good to be true HSM.

    3. I love on how he narrated Orestes’ affection to his naive bestfriend Jason Lastimosa (which actually made me laugh whenever Orestes ‘daydreams’ then suddenly became screwed up with the reality)

    4. Thank God and this novel has no filler but not over intense and over narrative, I prefer this over Twilight (urg, that self indulgent writing style)

    5. The only noticeable flaw in this novel is the typographical error between ‘Octavio’ and ‘Orestes’ name in the last chapter of Roles, (when Jason Lastimosa grabbed Octavio’s arm, I guess that should be Orestes’). Or maybe I was sleepy at that time so I wrongly seen that one.

    6. A good start, the dramatic dark hs life, at its best.

    7. I found Malvar’s writing style refreshing and clever.

  6. I LOVE YOUR BOOK ! I made it as my book report in English because, it inspires me alot! Teens must read this to learn more new things (:

  7. refreshing!

  8. i love your book.. so inspiring, it represent the real situation of young adult now a days :)) good work carlos malvar

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