With a job that she loves, an adorable senior dog, and a baby she fought hard to conceive on the way, life is going well for thirty-one-year old school teacher Kalila Rayos. That is, until her ex-boyfriend and first love, filmmaker Datu Alvez asks if they could try again.
Saying yes shouldn’t be too difficult. After all, she’s still also in love with him and Datu’s efforts to be there for her make her feel she truly has it all. But on top of her worries as a soon-to-be mom, a crisis that hits her school forces her to shift her priorities away from her own desires.
Will the one who got away be strong enough to stay, or will their second chance at love crumble and break her heart once more?
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One of the things I love about Tara Frejas’ books is the innate goodness of her characters; apart from the people who actually do them harm, there’s no toxicity between the main characters as well as with the others who truly support them. It was evident in the Backstage Pass series (especially in Play It By Ear and Stay With Me) along with her standalone books such as Waiting in The Wings (still my favorite theater romance). With Keeping Miss Kalila, we’re surrounded by more warm and lovable characters that you can’t help but root for to triumph in the end.
Like Son in Songs You Come Back To, Datu Alvez has appeared repeatedly in Tara’s previous books, most notably in Like Nobody’s Watching (featuring his baby brother Pio) and a standalone short story in the Second Wave Summer anthology. Here we delve deep into his psychology: not only does he suffer from angst as a middle child, but he has constantly endured bullying all his life, most especially from his estranged (and emotionally abusive) father. Now he’s a successful indie filmmaker, with a possible Netflix deal in the works and numerous commercial and personal projects on the docket. His weakness, however, is his best friend (and ex-girlfriend) Kalila, for whom he comes to the rescue in Second Wave Summer when her beloved dog falls ill. In this book he tries to win back Kalila, but not without complications:
“[…]Datu took pride in the fact that he had mastered two fine arts: Getting Shit Together, and more importantly, Not Giving A Fuck. He was often unruffled and in control. A feat, considering the industry he worked in.
Tonight, however, it took only two words to unravel him.
No, Kalila’s baby isn’t Datu’s–the “jelly bean,” as they’ve come to be known later, is the product of an artificial insemination procedure undertaken abroad–but he’s determined to be a good partner and father nonetheless. And he’s swept away by his love for Kalila that it comes close to destroying his career.
Meanwhile, Kalila herself is occupied with saving the school where she teaches, sometimes asking favors from people that she shouldn’t (like a married ex-boyfriend in City Hall). Datu also wants to save the day for her as well, but she’s determined to be her own hero, not just for herself but for her own school as well.
“Kalila stared at the message for a long time, and she felt as though her brain forgot what words were, what they meant. Breakfast forgotten, she paced to her room and collapsed on her bed. This cannot be happening. It’s nearly the start of the school year–where are the children going to go?”
I loved the fact that Datu and Kalila have chemistry off the bat–you can tell that the feelings are still there, and the only complications that exist come from real life. There’s no villain here to speak of (except, perhaps, for Datu’s horrible father), only good people who make bad choices. And I really felt for both Kalila and Datu: for her, because she wanted to be completed in every aspect of her life, and him, for not knowing exactly how to love. Nothing is predictable here at all; just when you think you’ve figured out the story beats, along comes the complications that threaten to throw the ship off course. Even the steamy parts don’t distract from the plot, but serve to stoke the already explosive romantic chemistry between the leads.
Another thing that I appreciate about Tara Frejas is her love of Filipino pop culture, and here we can see her genuine affection for old Filipino rom-coms, which Datu and Kalila watch together while they bond. (There’s also a lot of Easter egg-style cross-references with other #romanceclass books, as well!) But it’s Tara’s genuine affection for her characters that shines through here, and it’s amazing how she lets them drive the story along with a lot of heart.
I’ll be thinking about this story for days to come. Read it, as I’ve done, and let the goodness of Datu and Kalila touch you as well. 🙂