Title: Patron Saints of Nothing
Author: Randy Ribay
Publishing Date: June 18th 2019
Genre: YA Contemporary
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.
There are spoilers in this review but are HIDDEN. If you see “~~~” highlight the texts after it and the spoilers will show.
** A huge thanks to Bookworms Unite PH and Penguin Random House International for letting me participate in this blog tour and providing me an eARC. These, by any means, do not affect my review.
T/CW: animal death (page 1), grief, underage drug use, drug addiction, death
Patron Saints of Nothing broke me a thousand times. Liking this book was expected – given what it represents – being Filipino and the Philippine culture; its Philippine setting; and the main topic it tackles which is happening in my country right here, right now, while I am typing this – which is the drug war as started by the current Duterte administration. It’s obvious how personal this book is for me – even further because of reasons I could not say. But I honestly didn’t expect that I’ll close this book with a new favorite book and a new favorite author in my heart.
PERFECT PORTRAYAL OF LIFE IN THE PHILIPPINES
To be honest, I find it sometimes uncomfortable to say the word “perfect” simply because sometimes it can differ based on people’s perspectives. But this time, I am confident to say that as someone who lived in the Philippines her whole life, how the life in my country was portrayed was perfect.
Right from the very first chapter, I already felt that I will actually be seeing my country in this book. Not just in simple ways, but in major ways. And that our different cultures will be given spotlights. And I was right to expect such things. From the contradictions in our country – from the slums to the well-built three story houses, to the lives of the privileged to the lives of the marginalized, people’s contrasting views; how our every day lives are being heavily affected by our political system and policies (or the lack thereof, of effective ones); and the different Filipino cultures – from the interesting to the toxic ones, there were all there and gives a picture of what it really is to live here.
I really adored seeing the Filipino family and balikbayan cultures, and a lot more. I loved how it felt like I was in an adventure. Jay went to different parts of the Philippines from Manila to the province, to the slums to the churches to the malls, and I loved how descriptive it all were. It was quite a trip.
DEEP AND CAREFUL EXPLORATION OF FAMILY RELATIONS, POVERTY, DRUG WAR, PRIVILEGE CHECKING, AND MORE
Reading this book, it’s almost impossible not to be political and this is also certainly and undoubtedly a thought-provoking one.
Lots of Philippine issues or topics – political, humanitarian, social, were tackled. It carefully and deeply dives into the issue of the drug war in the Philippines and the extrajudicial killings that goes with it. It also shows what bad parenting, being suffocating and controlling, the lack of communication, not cultivating a loving and safe home can do and affect the children on that household. How poverty results to people risking their lives, doing things that are dangerous or illegal just for them to be able to put food in their stomachs for a day. About relationships between relatives who lives apart. Reminding us how sometimes, being caught up in our own lives, we start losing care about our relatives especially those who lives afar. About the wrong thinking that those in power are always right. About checking your privilege. About being silent, speaking up and how both could have different outcomes. About finding out the truth – the heaviness, and responsibility that comes with it. About discovering and embracing one’s identity. And how your words, presence, or showing that you care for someone can make a huge impact no matter how small you think that is.
I also really appreciate how this actually talks about real life events like the Maguindanao Massacre, imprisonment of Leila de Lima and more. And also mentions other events in the Philippine history.
Patron Saints of Nothing wasn’t biased, became an eye-opener and was able to make me ponder about so many things in life and made me feel different emotions I couldn’t even describe and count.
HUMANS REPRESENTED *WELL* THROUGH FICTION
Jay, tbh I didn’t know what to feel of him at first. I was afraid that he would be this typical American teenage privileged boy who just wants to mingle in other people’s business and think that he knows better and can solve all of the Philippines humanitarian problems just because he couldn’t imagine such things existing in real life. However, as the time goes by, he started to capture me. He proved that he is not just American but a Filipino as well. He is a good person. Not perfect. But I loved his journey of learning and how loving and thoughtful he is. He is just… the Kuya I wish I have.
Jun, oh Jun. I don’t even know where to start. I connected and understood him a lot for different reasons. He’s the representation of teenagers who grew up in a suffocating and strict household where you can barely feel loved, accepted and understood and couldn’t submit to such confining environment. His mental health issues, his dreams in life, his values, his positive and loving attitude ever since he was a kid… oh my ggod man, remembering them makes me tear up. He’s quite the star of the story for me. (Sorry Jay, you’re a star too) Though I like him and Jay the same, I actually connected with him more.
Grace, I love her. I understood her, though not at first. Her attitude is very understandable and I saw a part of me in her, growing in a strict household myself. She’s a strong girl with a soft heart who I just want to protect. She’s this girl whose fighting silently and secretly and I loved it.
Angel, I love her too. She’s this sweet little sister that has to be protected who will always try to make you happy.
Tito Maning, I hated him. He’s a DU30 supporter. I don’t even want to talk about his ideologies. I’ll just say that he’s that typical FIlipino who supports and embraces our traditions without being open to challenging its problems. He’s the typical strict parent who pressures their child and only thinks about what they want and always wants to be followed. He believes lies. He’s a Marcos apologist. He’s problematic. And I don’t want to talk about how much I hated. I digress.
Tita Annie, I dislike her. But I also pity her. She’s the typical Filipina submissive wife who couldn’t stand up against her husband even for the sake of her children. And I pity her because she’s a victim of sexist cultures that’s embedded in our society, who didn’t know better.
Mia, I liked her at first. I thought she’s this woke iska (scholar) I’d be admiring at the end. I do love what she’s doing – especially her hunger for the truth. But I was disappointed of her at the end. (Reasons somewhere below)
Tita Chato and Tita Ines, I love them both. They’re the titas we all need, who we can run to. I also admire their work in their organization. They show that though they are not your parents, you can still lean into some of your relatives. And that’s beautiful.
Reyna, I feel sorry for her. But I admire how strong of a woman she is. She’s a sex trafficking victim and her story tells a lot about the horrors this disgusting illegal act is doing to its victims which are mostly Filipinas.
Tito Danilo, I liked him. Yes, he broke a vow as a priest but that just shows that your original family is still your family and there are people who can break vows just for the sake of their loved ones.
The characters including those who aren’t mentioned, overall, showed different Filipinos I see in my life and other people’s lives that I know or see everyday. They are realistic and helped me more in feeling the realness of this story despite it being fiction.
Mia, disappointed me. She’s a cheater and I honestly think the “romance” or whatever that is was unnecessary. ~~~I would have loved if she and Jay have become close friends instead. I couldn’t believe that cheating wasn’t actually called out and I hated the attitude of Jay towards it who just went with the flow and seized the chance.
Also, I wasn’t able to immersed myself to the story and establish a connection with the characters, especially with Jay, immediately.
I do badly wish that there are trigger warnings especially on the beginning. Right on the very first few pages, I was welcomed with an animal death, and it broke me. But I’ve only read an eARC so I’m not sure if the finished copy has it. I hope so.
Lastly, this is not actually an imperfection, but rather just a personal thought. It’s obvious that Jay and Jun’s family is privileged. I have nothing against that and I’m not invalidating them. But I could really just imagine what if Jun’s family is poor. Yes, there are also victims from the middle class but majority of the victims of extrajudicial killings are poor. The Philippines drug war have basically been a war against the poor.
Patron Saints of Nothing is more than just a book – it is a ticket, giving a unique tour experience in the Philippines where you’ll see it for what it really is beyond its beaches, beautiful islands, happy faces, and tourist attractions. You’ll see its contradictions, and open your eyes to the struggles, nightmares, and hardships the Philippines is facing in this side of the world. But at the same time, it offers a hard-to-swallow but still somehow satisfying end – or rather, another beginning.
It may be my identity that makes me connect to this book in a very very deep way, but even without it, I could still see this book for what it really is – truthful, powerful, a battle cry for the victims of extrajudicial killings as well as corruption, injustice, and sex trafficking, eye-opener to everyone – Filipino or not, brave, and poignant.
Patron Saints of Nothing is one of a kind.
Randy Ribay is the author of the contemporary YA novels PATRON SAINTS OF NOTHING (Kokila/Penguin 2019), AFTER THE SHOT DROPS (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2018) and AN INFINITE NUMBER OF PARALLEL UNIVERSES (Merit Press/Simon & Schuster, 2015). He’s also a high school English teacher, reader, gamer, watcher of great TV, husband, and father of two dog-children. He can probably be found somewhere making lightsaber sound effects with his mouth.
Have you read Patron Saints of Nothing? How was it? What are your favorite books set in the Philippines? Share your thoughts below!