Isabel Yap’s 2021 Never Have I Ever: Stories is a collection of stories.
For the most part, the stories live somewhere near the intersection of modern fantasy and horror. The settings are almost but not always contemporary. Yap primarily draws on Philippine sources for inspiration1 (which makes me suspect some readers may view this collection as urban fantasy). However, these are only general truisms: “Syringe” is straightforward SF, and “A Cup of Salt Teas” features a Japanese monster. Clearly, Yap has range.
The common thread in the stories is that they are well-written, sleek little tales. Oddly, although this book is only 320 pages in length, the numerous stories left me with the impression of a much longer book. I should reiterate that each story is just as long as it needs to be and no longer.
“Good Girls” • (2015) • short story
The Bakersfield Good Girl Reformation Retreat offers its charges redemption and reformation without regard for whether the girls are actually miscreants, just inconvenient — or even victims. Kaye is, as it happens, far worse than Bakersfield suspects, but she’s not planning on hanging around long.
“A Cup of Salt Tears” • (2014) • short story
Stalked by an amiable monster from legend, Makino is discovers just what she will do to save the life of her beloved husband.
“Milagroso” • (2015) • short story
Meticulously engineered food: safe, reliable, plentiful, yet somehow not the miracle that is natural food.
“A Spell for Foolish Hearts” • short story
A moment’s carelessness undermines a young witch’s first romance.
On the plus side, while the couple come from very different backgrounds, they do have important aspects in common. On the minus side, their most prominent common trait is apocalyptically bad communication skills. Technically, this is a fantasy but the part about bad communication seems grimly realistic.
“Have You Heard the One About Anamaria Marquez?” • (2014) • short story
There are many stories about Anamaria Marquez. Some must be false (perhaps all are) but it is the closest the dead girl will get to immortality.
“Syringe” • short story
A robot nurse provides the best care its algorithms will allow to a dying woman.
“Asphalt, River, Mother, Child” • (2018) • short story
Whether or not a brutal wave of extrajudicial executions does anything to limit the supply of illegal drugs, its architects can take pride in how marvelously efficient these executions are at killing bystanders and the unjustly accused. It falls to Mebuyen to manage the aftermath.
Clearly inspired by President Duterte.
Hurricane Heels (We Go Down Dancing) • (2016) • novelette
Alex and her friends will always share memories of their careers as magical girls. Memories are the thread that binds the women together … which is good because the one power no magical girl has is the power to retire from the job.
“Only Unclench Your Hand” • (2016) • short story
A city girl visiting her country cousins enjoys disquieting proximity to functional magic.
How to Swallow the Moon • (2018) • novelette
A love-struck guard is determined to protect her princess from danger … but what can the guard do if the true danger to their relationship is an arranged marriage with a foreign prince.
“All the Best of Dark and Bright” • (2012) • short story
Dumped by his long-time girlfriend, Macho’s rebound romance is straight out of myth and legend.
“Misty” • (2013) • short story
Two young girls visit their estranged father, only to find themselves face to face with a monster.
A Canticle for Lost Girls • novelette
The need for common defense against a threat their teachers cannot protect them from — because the threat is a teacher — rekindles a shattered friendship between estranged friends.
1: Yap is not one of those authors who feels the need to include laborious explanations for readers who don’t know that Jollibee is a fast food outlet ubiquitous in the Philippines. This should be of little concern to my readers, who are doubtless curious cosmopolitans with great Google-fu.