Sugar and Spite by Gail D. Villanueva [Book Review]

NOTE: Thanks to Scholastic Press and the author for providing me a digital review copy via Edelweiss+ in exchange for an honest review! Any quote used in this review is taken from the provided copy, and the final print of the book may differ. Also, please know that this post may contain affiliate links for Amazon.

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Can a bully be defeated by a magical love potion?

Jolina can’t take Claudine’s bullying any longer! The taunts and teasing are too much. Though Jolina knows she’s still in-training to use her grandfather’s arbularyo magic, she sneaks into his potions lab to get her revenge. Jolina brews a batch of gayuma, a powerful love potion.

And it works. The love potion conquers Claudine’s hateful nature. In fact, Claudine doesn’t just stop bullying Jolina-now she wants to be Jolina’s BFF, and does everything and anything Jolina asks.

But magic comes with a cost, and bad intentions beget bad returns. Controlling another person’s ability to love-or hate-will certainly have consequences. The magic demands payment, and it is about to come for Jolina in the form of a powerful storm…

Magic and reality mingle in this brilliant new middle-grade novel by Gail D. Villanueva that asks whether it’s ever okay to take away someone’s free will. 


I don’t care if you think that you’re too old to read middle grade books. Gail D. Villanueva is an author that EVERYONE should read.

Do you remember the feeling of when you were a kid and stumbled upon an amazing “hideout?” It’s like, you don’t want anyone to know about it because they might ruin it, but you also wish that more people knew about it because they deserve to experience magic, too. That’s what Sugar and Spite feels like.

It’s perfect. Privilege, culture, friendship, bullying, self-acceptance, and sacrifice—Villanueva was able to weave these issues together in a way that’s inclusive and respectful. Sure, there’s an underlying hint of the current societal judgement towards the magic of the arbularyo, but Villanueva included it in such a way that it promoted understanding and acceptance. There was no erasure to be found. She was also able to add to the conversation on bullying by providing us with such complex main characters—Jolina and Claudine. Neither of them were simply straight-up good or evil. They’re kids who experience strong emotions and are still learning how to best act in accordance with their thoughts and feelings.

Jolina’s grandfather, Lolo Sebyo, is a perfect example of how adults should be when it comes to interacting with children. (Yes, this is my way of telling adults that you should read this book as well.) He patiently listens and talks to Jolina. He acknowledges Jolina’s mistakes and achievements equally. Jolina trusted him and felt safe with him. This is the kind of relationship I would like to have with my future kids. To be honest, I just want to be a good parent.

In her Author’s Note, Villanueva gives her readers a bit more depth in regards to some of the topics she included in her book. It’s sort of a very simple “for further reading” note, and it’s perfect for young readers! I really love how she highlighted the issue of bullying. She made sure that young readers would know that they can and should ask for help from adults when it’s happening.

With how she intricately danced around socio-political and cultural issues in Sugar and Spite, Villanueva sure made a fan out of me. I haven’t yet had a chance to read her other book, My Fate According to the Butterfly, but I have now made it a priority TBR.

About the author

Gail D. Villanueva is a Filipino author born and based in the Philippines. She’s also a web designer and an entrepreneur. She loves pineapple pizza, seafood, and chocolate, but not in a single dish together (eww). Gail and her husband live in the outskirts of Manila with their dogs, ducks, turtles, cats, and one friendly but lonesome chicken. Her debut novel MY FATE ACCORDING TO THE BUTTERFLY (Scholastic, 2019) was named a Best Book of the Year by Kirkus Reviews, an Amazon Best Book of the Month Editor’s Pick, and a NCSS-CBC Notable Social Studies Trade Book for Young People. Gail’s next book, SUGAR AND SPITE, will be published by Scholastic in Spring 2021. 

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3 thoughts on “Sugar and Spite by Gail D. Villanueva [Book Review]

  1. Zia says:

    “They’re kids who experience strong emotions and are still learning how to best act in accordance with their thoughts and feelings.”
    SO TRUE! Reading this book as an adult, Claudine’s meanness at the start felt more like painfully awkward attempts at starting a friendship. And of course Jolina would take Claudine’s jabs the wrong way since she’s still insecure about being an outsider. Gail Villanueva really knows how to write realistic kid characters 😍
    Great review Jonna!


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