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Longing love, hard life, and pen pals.
Just a Drop in the Ocean was an overall enjoyable read for me, though I had quite a few problems with the book's middle act. Throughout I was treated to the true to life, poignant, cultured, often hilarious, and deeply troublesome lives of the book's two leads Teresa Mercado and Nick Stevenson. I was also treated to two very distinct cultures in the book, as the Philippines and New Zealand feature heavily in the story, about as much as the two leads. So first we'll go over what I liked about the story, then what I didn't like, followed by my overall thoughts. A Drop in the Ocean was a long book and I had tons of thoughts about it throughout (it's a thought provoker no doubt), but I'll keep this as short as I can.
This book was written in two strong mature voices that were very distinct from one another. I found it to be overall well written with enjoyable and sympathetic protagonists, though there were times when the protagonists would push my buttons with just how much they were willing to be pushed around. The book opens up very strong with the first third being chocked full of beautiful metaphors and deeply descriptive and thought provoking prose. The descriptive style remains throughout along with a smattering of Filipino language and a wealth of evocative vocabulary words (that I had to highlight and look up) which all made the book a much more enjoyable read throughout. There was also a constant undercurrent of humor both dry and standard which kept the book from falling into its oftentimes depressing subject matter. The whole journey felt like a true human experience more times than not.
Of the two leads, I found Teresa Mercado to be the most enjoyable to read about from chapter to chapter. Teresa is a woman with all the attributes most men would kill for. She's smart, compassionate, fun, loyal, and ambitious, not to mention smoking hot. Throughout the book, life continues to hit Teresa hard and yet she continues to fight back and make her way through her struggles with her family intact. If Teresa loses a job, she will find a better one. If Teresa if cornered, she will fight out of that corner. That makes her the strongest lead, I'd say. Her personal life was very interesting as well, considering all of the various careers she found herself in and she never strayed from her one true goal, keeping her family together and happy. Nick was enjoyable (in parts) as well, but his life was much more stationary than Teresa's, which isn't to say he didn't have his problems. He had two massive ones that haunted him throughout the book. I just found him to be an overall weaker lead as he seemed more passive to his problems. It was great to see how Teresa and Nick lived such diverse lives that still ran parallel to one another and how many close encounters they unknowingly had throughout, like fate was guiding them the entire time.
Another cool little thing about the book was how it was a time capsule encapsulating several moments in turning technology throughout the decades. We got to see the start of the internet age, the boom of webcamming, the rise of social media, etc. I loved seeing how Nick and Teresa responded to these new changes. Beyond that the book takes some interesting twists and turns and goes on quite a few tangents (for better or worse).
As much as I loved the book, it still has some glaring flaws that hold it back from being one of my favorite reads (which it could've easily been). The first flaw is the length of it. I feel it's far far longer than it needs to be to tell the story it wants to tell. I attribute this to the overreaching and repetitive middle act which follows the same formula for both Teresa and Nick for so long that it becomes predictable and boring for as long as that stretch of the story persists. Typically for Teresa it would go something like: she builds her life up in a new city, something comes to mess up that life (usually the same antagonist), she's broke and moves elsewhere, and the cycle repeats a few times. Usually some new friend of hers steps in and helps her out along the way, but see the problem with this is it's done enough that you see right through it. Unfortunately the formula repeats often enough that it majorly impeded much of my enjoyment with the book and padded it out too much for me.
Feeding right in with my last problem were the two main antagonists for the book, who both happened to be the spouses of both leads. You have Nick's gold-digging and possibly insane wife Marivic and Teresa's womanizing and abusive husband Marlon. The two started off well enough, when you could see shades of their greed and abuse but eventually they become so over-the-top in their abuse that I could only see them as cartoon villains. The book has such a fine autobiographical feel that this really takes me out of the experience. A lot of books use convenient excuses to get protagonists out of trouble, but this one use convenient excuses to get the protagonists into trouble and that convenience usually comes in the form of the spouses from hell. The antagonists also weaken the protagonists to the point where they aren't enjoyable to read. Both protagonists become glorified yes men/women whenever confronted with their spouses and putty in their hands. Nick especially suffers from this to the point that I wanted to skip through his chapters, but Teresa can't escape it either unfortunately. Luckily this mostly only lasts for the middle part of the book and once through that the protagonists return to form.
Once we get to the final act things get good again and the book ends on a very enjoyable high note. Altogether, I'd say that this was indeed a book that spoke to me on several levels and one that felt intensely personal. It definitely felt autobiographical all the way through and once the author all but confirms it during the final chapter, I could only nod my head that my hunch was correct. I've experienced a love like Teresa and Nick's, trading letters, texts, and emails with a few penpals in my lifetime and I've experienced unrequited love to the same degree that Teresa seems to feel throughout her life. Both leads desires for that partner that got away, it definitely speaks to me and the hardships they faced speaks to me as well. Their struggles were my struggles and that's what kept me turning the page. I wanted to see if life got better for them, just like I wonder if life will get better for myself. All in all, I found their struggles and what they gained by the end of them to be empowering. It mimicked how I felt throughout my time reading the book, almost beat for beat. So at the end of the day, I'd say that Just a Drop in the Ocean was an enjoyable read that began strong and ended on a high note.
+Strong Mature Voice
+Enjoyable and sympathetic protagonists
+An in-depth look into Filipino and New Zealand culture and characters.
+A smattering of Filipino language.
+A wealth of evocative and useful vocabulary words.
+Well rounded vocabulary of words
+Loads of humor throughout.
+The story speaks to me on many levels, encompassing much of real life
+Pen pals in love also speaks to me, and the pain of unrequited love
+Some nice subtle mature touches early on
+Strong friendships (mainly due to Teresa's appeal)
+nice use of metaphor early on
+Lots of deep descriptive thought provoking writing at beginning
+Teresa's career choices and ambition, her political life, leadership
+Many time capsule moments, such as the start of the internet age, webcamming, the rise of social media,
+Teresa is pleasantly open-minded
+Book takes some surprising turns and tangents (for better or worse)
+A few risqué and funny moments. Lots of deep and profound ones too
+A decent amount of forethought, detail, and research are put into each situation
+I do like the realism of life that occurs in the book
+I like the ending (very hard fought happiness)
-Probably longer than it needs to be.
-Repetitive middle act (build up to happiness, brief happiness, convenient problem).
-Middle act paints everyone as mostly unenjoyable Nick and Teresa's weakness, their husband and wife's callousness, other characters suddenly turning antagonistic, though there are some sub characters who remain enjoyable.
-Many books use convenient excuses to solve problems. This one uses them to create problems.
-Nick's lack of backbone really is troublesome and stretches on so long that it borders on unreadable for me.
-Occasional odd punctuation, sometimes thoughts don't have quotes or italics to separate them.
-The antagonists of the book are sometimes cartoonishly malicious to the point it's unbelievable.
-Some subtly would have been nice in some places, like when Nick and Teresa cross paths, the author instead spells it out with intruding narration.
-Narration spoilers oftentimes ruin later scenes scene we're told the outcome ahead of time, most egregiously, the scene with Mr. Aguilar.