“Patron Saints of Nothing” is a delightful, fast-paced, emotion-driven read. The main character, Jason Reguerro, is a high school senior preparing to start college in the fall but finds out before spring break that his cousin, Jun, was killed as part of the war on drugs in the Philippines. Jason travels to the Philippines to try to find the truth about Jun’s death since his family will not talk about it. During his trip, he learns about the history of the Philippines, the current political climate of the country, and compares it to his life in America. He gets to know his family he hasn’t seen in years and is surprised by all that he didn’t know about them previously.
This book is written for the teenagers, somewhat obviously so because of how often Jason says ‘like’ in his monologue. Ribay takes the reader on a journey of this teenage protagonist trying to define what being Filipino means to him and why it is different than what it means to his cousin. Focusing on this time of growth for Jason can support anyone’s experience reading this book, being able to remember being in high school and thinking about going to college, arguing with parents and siblings, etc. Being written for this younger population made this book an easy read, but more so it was easy to read because it was honest, open and vulnerable. It was hard to stop reading as the chapters flow into each other. At moments the book feels like a diary, as if Jason was documenting all of his thoughts and experiences for a week and a half. As author Laurie Halse Anderson said of it, this book is “equal parts heartbreaking and soul-healing,” and I cannot agree more. Even in the smallest tragedies of this story, the reader can feel Jason’s hope, excitement, pain and frustration at the same time.
I would recommend this as a read for any person remotely interested in the Filipino experience both in the Philippines and in America. Ribay influences the audience to do the research to know the answers to the questions Tito Maning asks of Jason. Through Jason’s learning, as the reader I was pushed to remember Tagalog words and phrases I had forgotten. I had to Google when Rizal was executed, how many Filipinos were killed and raped because of the Japanese Occupation, and how much America paid to ‘buy’ the Philippines because I didn’t have solid answers when Tito Maning was testing Jason. I had forgotten these facts and could empathize with Jason’s guilt about not knowing.
Being able to take these facts and turn them into more with this novel, to be able to explain why Tito Maning takes such pride in his work as a police officer and why Jason’s grandparents live in the same place they always have with no cell towers or indoor plumbing proves that history matters and that without going out on your own the youth in our public school system are not taught enough about our people. Books like this deserve more attention because they hold a lot of significance in the Southeast Asian community. We don’t see many Filipinos in any teenage TV show or many realistic and/or fictional stories based on a character with a Filipino identity advertised in stores. This book allows the community to be reminded of our history without reading like or being a textbook. The book wants to teach about Philippine culture and does. I have already strongly recommended this to my family to read and I will continue to recommend it to whoever might ask.