Patron Saints of Nothing engages the reader in a journey of self-discovery with Jay Reguero, a high school student in his senior year, who lives in Michigan with his American mother and Filipino father. His father, having left the Philippines to give his children a better life when they were young, expects Jay to go to an Ivy League college to make the move seem worth the stakes it has cost him—great personal shame and grief from some family members who deem him a traitor.
Disappointingly, Jay has an estranged relationship with his father, who has few meaningful conversations with him, and a shallow relationship with his best friend, Seth, who only shares his love of gaming and playing basketball. It is only Jay’s cousin, Jun, living in the Philippines with whom Jay has a deep relationship with from a memorable vacation when he was ten and the subsequent years of letter writing, that is, before Jay stopped responding to Jun’s letters.
Early on in the story, the reader discovers that Jun had been living on the street for a few years and was shot by the police for doing drugs. While questioning his parents, Jay is introduced to President Rodrigo Duterte’s harsh campaign on cleaning up crime in the Philippines, leaving him feeling ashamed for not knowing or understanding what his Filipino family has been enduring while he has lived a fear-free existence in the United States. When an anonymous person messages Jay from a fake account, indicating that Jun’s death was not related to drugs and that he didn’t deserve to die, Jay embarks on a journey back to his “other” homeland to clandestinely uncover the truth behind his cousin’s death since no one will talk about it. From there, Jay is faced with getting in touch with his Filipino roots; developing an understanding of his father; and coming to grips with the fact that people aren’t always what they seem, which has to be okay.
I would recommend this novel to anyone who loves a good mystery or coming of age story and/or who is interested in mixed-race identity, family bonding, social responsibility, and current issues in the political sphere of the Philippines.
Joanne McDonald teaches grade 9 English, Writing 110, and Canadian Geography 120 at Oromocto High School. Over the past couple of years, she has become passionate about getting great books into the hands of her students and has reconnected with her old creative writing self.