Book Review | Patron Saints of Nothing

My Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Title: Patron Saints of Nothing

Author: Randy Ribay

Format: Hardcover (won from Bookishfirst)

Pages: 323

Categories: Mystery, Own Voices, Philippines, Politics, Family, Young Adult, Grief, Identity

Disclaimer: **I received this book free from Bookishfirst in exchange for an honest review.  All thoughts and opinions are my own.**

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. 

Thank you to Kokila and BookishFirst for giving me a chance to win a copy of this book.

Patron Saints of Nothing made me mad, laugh and cry. This story took me on an emotional rollercoaster and one I wasn’t expecting. I heard amazing reviews of this book, but I didn’t think I needed tissues!

Jay is a teenage Filipino-American boy, his dad is Filipino, mom is caucasian and though Jay was born in the Philippines he has lived in Michigan since he was very little. He receives news that his cousin Jun in the Philippines is dead and no one in the family wants to talk about it. Jun had a past and the rumor is he was a drug addict. With President Duterte in power in the Philippines drug users and drug pushers are fair game on the streets. Police are allowed to kill them, no arrest or trial needed. Jay feels like he needs to find out the truth about Jun, but as he searches for clues, Jay realizes he has a lot to learn about the Motherland, his family, Jun and himself.

“Truth is a hungry thing.”

Patron Saints of Nothing by. Randy Ribay
  • It’s a Filipino story – but not everyone’s filipino story, but for me, it was close enough. As the author says, “Truth is a hungry thing“, and as I kept reading this story my hunger for Filipino history increased along with Jay’s. Jay is half filipino, half white (like my own children) and though his experience was clearly different from mine a lot of the book was still nostalgic to me and recognizable in my own life story.
  • The emotions this book invoked in me were strong and so unexpected. The characters in this book, like Jay’s dad, his uncles and grandparents – I recognize them. They are in my family. The hard uncle, the cousins, the gay aunts and the family dynamics. I get it and it just brought the tears, especially when Jay tries to find his voice to stand up to his uncle, or when they finally celebrate Jun’s life, the grief just made me lose it in the end.
  • There are so many issues brought up in this book: the drug war in the Philippines started by President Duterte, the outside perspective coming from Jay the American, the family drama, the guilt, the differences of the USA and Philippines, the HISTORY of the Philippines, finding ones identity when they aren’t raised in the Philippines, dealing with truth that hurts, family dynamics between Jay and his “american” family vs his filipino family, and Jun’s pursuit to do the right things-to be a good person. This book brought it all and questions many things.
  • This story is unapologetic and powerful in a quiet way. This book spoke to me on all kinds of levels. My kids need to read this book someday, I want my husband to read it, I already have a friend lined up to read it now that I’m done.
  • The setting of the Philippines is spot on and I swear I could smell the Philippine air as I read this. I’ve only been there officially three times, but technically only remember 2 visits because I was a baby the first time. “It was a day of soil, sunlight, and smoke.” That’s the first line of the book and right away I had a visual of a morning in the Ilocos Norte country side, the sun rising above the greenery and smoke in my nostrils. My soul said YESSSSSS, when I read that first line.
  • I loved Jun’s letters. It gave us insight into his home life and how he felt deeply about the issues in his country. You could tell he was a sensitive soul with an insensitive father who didn’t understand him. But that whole “parents not understanding their child” thing resonated with me too. I understood Jay’s lack of relationship with his father (totally get this) and I understood Jun’s desire to run away from his overbearing/judmental/controlling father (totally get this too 😒).
  • The budding romance in the story probably wasn’t needed but it’s not an untrue experience. And it was pretty innocent – they held hands.
  • Trigger Warning: animal dies. Or should I say killed? But even just saying that…it’s not just a killing. It’s more than that – it’s one paragraph of the book but again it packed a punch because it is reminiscent of my childhood where I watched my grandma kill a chicken for dinner. The goat, yes…I’ve heard many goats die in my childhood. And yes we have grocery stores in Hawaii, but my grandma was as Filipino old school as they come. You couldn’t take the farm life out of her! But the description of the kill comes in a letter from Jun who says now what used to not bother him, bothers him…and it sets off another dispute between him and his father.

I wish I had this book when I was a teenager. It makes my heart happy that there will be a book that my kids, who are half Filipino, will be able to identify with when they are old enough to read this. I know there will be even more for them to read because the diversity of stories coming out in the young adult genre world is amazing and I absolutely applaud that.

Patron Saints of Nothing gutted me and ignited me. I cannot stop thinking about it. It’s made me hungrier for truth. It’s made me grateful that I asked my grandparents about their past before they died, I wish I asked more. I told my son yesterday to ask his grandparents QUESTIONS about their life in the Philippines. Ask them about their childhood, ask them what they did for fun, ask because it is important to know. I’ll eventually bring my own kids there and they can have their own experiences.

This is a book about family, grief, history, the drug war in the Philippines and finding one’s identity. But also, it is MORE. It’s a story about my people and I’m very proud to know this book is out there in the world.

“I expected the truth to illuminate, to resurrect. Not to ruin.”

Patron Saints of Nothing by. Randy Ribay

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