Patron Saints of Nothing by Randy Ribay

Patron Saints of Nothing spoke to me as a insightful look inside the male teenage mind. Shame, grief, anger, and frustration are feelings that many young men are forced to deal with on their own. There is also a firm desire to ‘fix’ things and to know the ‘truth,’ as if this will automatically bring about closure. This hard stoicism and emotional restraint compels many youths to push their feeling inside and never reach a maturity the are capable of.

Jay is a Filipino-American who is about to graduate from high school. He is resigned to the fact that he will be attending the University of Michigan; he feels he will eventually find something he’s interested in, study it, and find a career, just like his parents want him to. His life becomes upended when he finds out the his Filipino cousin Jun has been killed. He knows it’s connected somehow to President Duarte’s campaign against drugs and crime. Jay can’t get a straight story out of his father, and with Spring Break the following week, he convinces his parents to let him go to the Philippines to visit his father’s side of the family for the first time in many years. As the son of an American mother and Filipino father and lacking the language and cultural knowledge of a native Filipino, he anticipates friction, but going home is more difficult than he thought.

Armed with Jun’s letters and an anonymous ally, he has ten days to find the truth. In the face of his scary uncle and his cousins who themselves hide truths, he plays many roles and is accused of many more: bystander, traitor, enemy, confidant, and mourner. Ultimately, it is a wake up call for Jay to the bigger things in life, past college goals and his mundane everyday existence.

This books discusses what it means to understand a culture, language, misbegotten families… A story of a young man who feels he’s not allowed to grieve in his own way, yet is still trying to discover what that really is. The pacing was perfect as the reader gets to know Jay in his home in the United States and then is thrust into a situation where he is thrown off at every turn. His parents wanted him to be Americanized and haven’t told him much about Filipino culture or of the political upheaval in that country. And this conflict between the parents’ teachings and a son’s naïveté clashes with his desire for truth. It brings about an honest tension that drives much of the narrative.

Patron Saints of Nothing is a welcome exploration into a young man’s mind and a family’s struggle to come to terms with a member’s death.  I will happily recommend this book to my students and my librarian friends.

5 out of 5 stars.

Thank you to NetGalley, Kokila Books, and the author for an advanced copy for review.

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