Published by Kokila on June 18, 2019
Genres: Coming of Age, Contemporary, Young Adult
Pages: 323 •Format: ARC •Source: ALA, Publisher
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.
Patron Saints of Nothing was brought to my attention by the lovely Mel to the Any, so when I attended ALA midwinter this year I couldn’t resist picking up a copy, especially after seeing the striking cover. Though I myself am not Filipino, my husband’s family is and I am making an effort to read more diversely and learn more about his Filipino heritage, so I was excited to read this title that not only explored the experience of a Filipino-American protagonist, but actually explored the current state of the Philippines as well when the protagonist visits his birth country to look further into a mystery surrounding his cousin.
This book wasn’t perfect, but I rated it highly because it completely gripped me. It was incredibly eye opening to learn about the state of affairs in the Philippines, as the happenings there are not necessarily widely known here in the US (as the protagonist Jason finds out as he tries to research things happening in the Philippines as well). I also am always here for a story of a biracial MC learning more about their heritage, and that’s exactly what the core of this story is about. Jay get challenged quite a bit on is pre-conceived notions and privilege when he visits the Philippines as well and it was encouraging to see him digest the information and reframe the way he thought about things or understood things. There’s definitely character growth throughout the story for Jay, even if he wasn’t always my favorite of characters.
Another thing I respected about this novel was that it really drives home the message that you usually can’t put people into one bucket- either “good” or “bad.” Jay realizes this not only about his cousin, but about multiple other family members who may turn a blind eye to one thing but still support something else, even if it contradicts what they believe in. It also explores the fine line between pride and guilt that many immigrants and there families face, and how’s Jay’s family back in the Phillipines are both proud of their brother (Jay’s father) who moved to America and can help provide for them by sending money and other necessities and help finance their childrens’ education, but are also resentful of him as well for leaving his family and his roots. Overall I think this book did a great job (from my limited perspective) in showcasing the experiences of those living in the Philippines, those like Jay who have been very Americanized and raised in the states, and those who exist in the space in between (like Jay’s father).
Ribay also did a good job in portraying the very different life experiences of the different young adults in this novel. We obviously spend a lot of time learning about Jay as the protagonist and his identity struggle as a biracial Americanized MC, but there’s a great juxtaposition between him and the other young adults he interacts with. From Jun, his missing cousin who felt suffocated by the standards and beliefs he was expected to abide by, to Grace and Angel, Jay’s cousins, who appear to be the model teenage citizens of an upper class Filipino household (though come to find out they are harboring their own secrets and activities).
While there were many elements about this story I enjoyed, I felt that it was weighed down by an unnecessary romance that felt very much like insta-love to me. While romance is very much a part of the young adult experience, this story has so much going on and the stakes are so high that it could have really excelled without the addition of a romance (especially one that felt uncomfortable for a variety of reasons).
Overall: Not a perfect read, but definitely a gripping one with some very important discussions and POVs. I would love to read more books by Filipino authors, especially those exploring the biracial Filipino-American experience.