Thank you so much to Kokila Books & BookishFirst for the finished copy of Patron Saints of Nothing by Randy Ribay. I won this book a few months ago, and it was published in June, 2019. I am so upset with myself that I didn’t pick it up sooner, because this was a beautifully written #ownvoices young adult novel.
This novel is about Jay, a senior in high school. He is Filipino-American and has just gotten into the University of Michigan for the fall. He learns of his cousin Jun’s death, a casualty of Duterte’s war on drugs in the Philippines. This is a topic I know almost nothing about other than a small snippet of a John Oliver clip on authoritarianism. When learning about Jun’s death, Jay asks questions of his parents in America — who have no answers for him. One day, Jay gets a mysterious Instagram message from a friend of Jun’s, telling him that Jun’s death isn’t all as it seems. Full of sorrow and a desire to find the truth, Jay convinces his parents to allow him to visit his family in the Philippines over his spring break, people he hasn’t seen in about 8 years.
He first arrives to stay with his uncle, Jun’s father, a stern police officer with two daughters who rules with an iron fist — or so he things. Jay gets to know his younger cousins and learns that there are secrets upon secrets in this family. Jay tries to learn about Jun from this part of his family, but is told his questioning is unwelcome. Jay then goes to visit his aunt & her partner in a different village, and is able to unwrap a little more of the story. Finally, it all comes to a head when all members of the family meet up at Jay’s grandparents’ house.
This novel was raw, heartfelt, and beautifully written. It absolutely broke my heart to see how sad Jay was at the news of his cousin’s death, and the frustration he felt when he just wanted to find the truth. It was a powerful book that focused on how family can support one another and how important it is to be transparent. I loved learning about the Filipino culture and seeing what life was like in the Philippines. I also really appreciated how the author unpacked the religion & politics of the Philippines and how they affected this family. I think this author has extraordinary talent & I can’t wait to read his other works. Pick up this 5/5 star read ASAP!