Along Came a Soulmate, the true memoir by Armenia Jess, tells the story of poverty, survival, faith, hope, grit and pure love. Armenia was born in an impoverished village in Southern Mindanao in the Philippines. Her father passed away when she was only twelve years old, her youngest brother who was only nine years old, became the bread winner and supported her education through college. Later on, she met her husband who significantly changed her (and her family’s) life. The book follows Armenia and her family’s bittersweet life experiences in the Philippines before she made it to the USA. Her family struggled to survive their impoverished living conditions and the cruel circumstances they encountered in a village near her hometown; when they left to live in the town to chase her dream only to be evicted from multiple rental houses they couldn’t afford to pay; and when she unexpectedly met the man who loves her unconditionally and showed her the world.
Stories of abuse, family conflict, and hardship fill this book to the brim. The many anecdotes can be hard to follow as Jess introduces numerous family and community members, and their stories often come one right after the other with little transition. Her writing style is consistently calm and composed, occasionally diminishing the emotional resonance. After so many pages spent in the homes and worries of Jess’s youth, the final third of the memoir speeds through college, her foray into online relationships, and falling in love with a white American man twice her age. This may disappoint readers who were led by the title to expect more romance.
Though sometimes tragic, Jess’s tale is one of resilience, and readers will laud her determination to survive and find joy in a world that seems to be almost always fighting against her. Jess doesn’t sugarcoat her family’s shortcomings, but neither does she hold back from sharing her deep love for them. She shares Filipino culture and terms in a way that’s accessible, and by the end readers will feel like they’ve walked a mile in her very worn-out shoes. Jess’s memoir is vivid, messy, and difficult, a vibrant reflection of her tenacity.
Takeaway: This powerful memoir of growing up impoverished in the Philippines will be resonant for children of messy families, lifelong travelers, and survivors of adversity.
Great for fans of Katherine Boo’s Behind the Beautiful Forevers, Meredith Talusan’s Fairest.
Design and typography: B
Marketing copy: B