Patron Saints of Nothing
by Randy Ribay
A powerful coming-of-age story about grief, guilt, and the risks a Filipino-American teenager takes to uncover the truth about his cousin’s murder.
Jay Reguero plans to spend the last semester of his senior year playing video games before heading to the University of Michigan in the fall. But when he discovers that his Filipino cousin Jun was murdered as part of President Duterte’s war on drugs, and no one in the family wants to talk about what happened, Jay travels to the Philippines to find out the real story.
Hoping to uncover more about Jun and the events that led to his death, Jay is forced to reckon with the many sides of his cousin before he can face the whole horrible truth — and the part he played in it.
As gripping as it is lyrical, Patron Saints of Nothing is a page-turning portrayal of the struggle to reconcile faith, family, and immigrant identity.
I think I got to know about this book because Melanie from meltotheany mentioned it way back! Then I got to know that it was available to request on NetGalley and I did it impulsively to be honest. I didn’t really know much about the book except for the fact that it was about a biracial boy dealing with the reality of being raised American but also being Filipino as well. It was something very much out of my comfort zone but I am glad that I dared to request and the publisher granted my wish.
I would like to say first that I wouldn’t know the struggles of a biracial person and that I really don’t know what it’s like for people in America and the Philippines but this one really opened my eyes to the problems. I still don’t know much about them but at least, now I am aware about them in certain ways and I have to admit that I am sad about it all. It’s just so…maddening but I am glad that these things are coming to light for the international readers through books like these.
Now onto the actual book. I think it was amazing in every sense of the word. It brought forth so many points about so many things that I was frankly unaware of and it made me search more about those topics. For me, that’s when a book has long surpassed any expectations I had of it. It made me Google things. On a more serious note, this book tackled so many difficult matters and in a way that felt natural and well-nuanced. I think, that’s one of the hardest obstacles with books that deal with such topics.
Jay, as a teenager felt real and his life in US and his disconnect with his own culture was done wonderfully. While Jay was re-learning about his culture and traditions, I learned a lot of about Filipino culture. The pain, shock and just general grief that Jay had for Jun was so raw and then I learned about the Drug War and I was just so angry. I feel like more than the plot or even some of the characters, this book taught me something I had been ignorant about and I can’t help but be grateful for that.
The fact that while Jay is learning more about his own culture, he does make mistakes and he does get called out. His own perceptions about his childhood, his family and the Filipino people changes throughout the book and that growth was so good to see. Him being a first generation Filipino-American made sense in trying to ease the reader into realising the problems Filipino people have facing for a while.
Then there’s the a few bits I did have problems with. The romantic interest. What purpose did it serve? Mia could have been a great character on her own, I didn’t see any chemistry and frankly, I wasn’t at all invested in how it all turned. Sorry. Then there’s the character of Tito Maning. Oh, god. That one infuriated me to no end but the thing is, I have seen far more adults with that sort of mindset, I wish there were more people who were shown to be just as problematic. Oh well. I must admit to really relishing being angry at Tito Maning so I shouldn’t complain.
Overall, I think this book was thought provoking and enlightening about what’s actually been happening in the Philippines and how it’s anti-poor. How all of this had somehow escaped my knowledge for so long. The writing is really great and so is the character growth. So if you are at all thinking of picking this one up, don’t hesitate! Just do it!