Book Review: Patron Saints of Nothing by Randy Ribay // my most anticipated read of 2020

Title: Patron Saints of Nothing

Author: Randy Ribay

Published: September 10, 2019

Pages: 432

Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary

Amazon / Barnes & Nobles / Book Depository / Goodreads

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July 24, 2020 | Before you read this, please take a moment to read this important blog post by the author of the book, and learn about how you can take action against the new Terror Law in the Philippines.

Growing up, I was reluctantly proud of being half-filipino.

Even though I was also half-Indian, my mom was undoubtedly more successful than my dad at ensuring that my siblings and I were connected to her homeland and Filipino culture (sorry, dude ✌️). We used Filipino honorifics like “Ate” and “Kuya” in our household, regularly went to fiestas and novenas organized by family in the area, and visited the Philippines every two or three summers.

While I lived in a bubble in the United States predominantly populated by Asian Americans, I could count the number of Filipinos I knew outside of my family on one hand. I delighted in telling my classmates where the Philippines was when asked, and I was more than happy to be the designated lumpia supplier during parties with friends 👈👈.

Still, I was always bothered by certain things in regards to my Filipino heritage. For starters, no amount of Ates or Kuyas I uttered in a day would erase the fact that I didn’t fully speak or understand my mom’s language. And sure, I went to fiestas and novenas, but when was the last time I actually prayed in a church like my fiercely Catholic Titas and Titos?

There were more things that nagged at me, but the thought that unsettled me the most was the undeniable truth that I didn’t actually know the history or current affairs of the country I was pointing to on the map for people.

In Patron Saints of Nothing by Randy Ribay, the main character was a familiarly ignorant, half-filipino American teenager named J. Ensconced in his suburban town in Michigan and raised by parents who wanted him to grow up “American”, J never gave much consideration to the country he was born in: the Philippines. The only thread he had to his father’s homeland and family were the letters sent back and forth between him and his Filipino cousin, Jun—until those eventually stopped too.

When Jun was murdered for being allegedly wrapped up in President Duterte’s War on Drugs, a disbelieving J traveled to the Philippines to uncover the truth behind his cousin’s death. There, he realized the extent of his disconnect to his Filipino side, butted heads with passionate pro-Duterte family members, and grappled with the idea of having opinions about a country he cared about, but did not live in.

Patron Saints of Nothing was an unmistakable Filipino story written with striking tact and accuracy. In *a book talk that I filmed with some of my best friends from the Philippines, my friend remarked that Patron Saints of Nothing “wasn’t Filipino in the really corny, exaggerated type of way… it was just Filipino, period”. I thought this statement described how it felt to read the degree of care Ribay gave to the Filipino representation in the story. Ribay’s careful attention to detailing the subtleties of the Philippines and its people was apparent in every instance of the story—most notably in the way he directed the discussion on the War on Drugs.

“It strikes me that I cannot claim this country’s serene coves and sun-soaked beaches without also claiming its poverty, its problems, its history. To say that any aspect of it is part of me is to say that all of it is part of me.”

Writing about something as controversial as a drug war couldn’t be easy, especially when you’re constantly questioning the validity of your representation as an outsider and Filipino-American. Yet, Ribay exhibited a commendable sensitivity in sharing different perspectives on the subject (something international news outlets often fail at doing). Through J and his other characters, Ribay was further able to explore Filipino expats’ roles in discussions about homeland politics.

There were some aspects of the book that I stumbled over. At the beginning, I found that direct definitions of common Filipino terms designed to paint the story’s setting took me out of the story instead of bringing me in, but I could see how they could benefit readers unfamiliar with Filipino culture. Additionally, there was a romantic subplot that I felt was random and quite questionable 😬.

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Patron Saints of Nothing was a quick and digestible read, but in retrospect, it was brimming with themes and conversations that should extend beyond the last page of the book. Drug addiction as a mental health problem, macho man culture, homophobia, and religion were some other touchy topics that the story broached, and for these reasons, this book may not be for everyone. But if this important story about current Filipino events interests you in the slightest, I highly recommend it.

☆☆☆☆

i really liked it


Thanks for reading! Have you read Patron Saints of Nothing? Would you want to if you haven’t? Let me know 🙂.

*Originally, this review was much longer and included a portion where I reflect over and overshare about the four years I lived in the Philippines, but I decided against it for now 😅. To be clear, I do not support the War on Drugs.

If you’ve read Patron Saints of Nothing already or want to hear some more about it, I filmed a more in-depth book talk with some Filipina friends that contains non-spoilery and spoilery sections 🙂:

💌 time stamps
| no spoilers | ~ (or anything i would consider a spoiler). 0:00 – synopsis + disclaimer. 1:37 – quick intros. 2:03 – initial thoughts. 5:06 – how we related to j.
| spoilers | 7:22 – book’s approach to the drug war. 9:42 – analyzing the chapter titles? lol. 10:50 – j’s character development. 12:40 – pride & saving face. 13:50 – representation of filipino culture. 17:29 – thoughts on the romance. 18:40 – the ending, drug war, and drug dependence. 27:44 – final thoughts. 31:28 – closing remarks.

I hope you’re all well 😄!

WHERE ELSE TO FIND ME: GOODREADS / YOUTUBE / TWITTER / INSTAGRAMBLOGLOVIN’ / TUMBLR / KO-FI

26 thoughts on “Book Review: Patron Saints of Nothing by Randy Ribay // my most anticipated read of 2020

  1. This is a brilliant review Belle! You raise so many interesting points about something being an almost stereotyped depiction of culture, country etc rather than subtly authentic. Sounds like a truly great book with much to unpick. ☺️☺️💜💚❤️

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks for your thoughts on this one–still haven’t had a chance to read it yet. This sounds really good and like a story I can relate to. One of my teen patrons who read it in her school’s book club recommended it to me. Sometimes I feel half-Filipino…I’m not LOL. I’m 100% Filipino, but I don’t speak Tagalog–only common phrases and words (namely swear words!). This has definitely made me feel isolated growing up when I had a group of Filipino friends who understand and/or speak Tagalog very well. I’m a practicing Catholic and singer at my Parish where we have a large Filipino community. I’ve sung for the Misa de Gallo, so I learned how to sing and read in Tagalog, but it definitely surprises people when they learn I don’t speak it LOL!

    Jasmine | singprettyreadbooks.com

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much for reading and replying to this, Jasmine! The book is so relatable and certainly worth the read! I can see what you mean about feeling half-filipino (and I get you about swear words 😂). My friend from the Philippines surprised me once by saying that sometimes she doesn’t feel Filipino enough, so I’m beginning to think it’s a common feeling among Filipinos regardless of where we were brought up haha 😅. That’s really awesome that you can participate in your church though – singing and reading in Tagalog is definitely better than nothing 😄!

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  3. AAAHHH great review Belle and it’s nice to know a few things about yourself as well :> “Writing about something as controversial as a drug war couldn’t be easy, especially when you’re constantly questioning the validity of your representation as an outsider and Filipino-American.” I do agree with this! I’ll be binge watching your vids later so watch out!!! AHAHAH

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hahaha thank you so much, Divine 💛!! It took me forever to write this little review, so I’m really glad you could agree with something I said hahaha 😅. Ahhh I cringe at ANYTHING I make older than two weeks 😂 thank you so much, Divine 😄💖!

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  4. It was wonderful to hear your thoughts about this book. I plan on reading this book this year and I’m definitely excited to get to it. It definitely sounds like a book which talks about hard topics and themes but does it well which is important. Thank you for sharing your thoughts, I loved reading them and I am even more eager to pick it up now !! ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much, Sophie 💛!! That makes me so happy to hear! I really hope you enjoy the book once you pick it up, and I can’t wait to hear your thoughts on it 😄💖!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I love this review! I was actually just recommended this book, but I barely even knew the synopsis. All I knew was that this book was set in the Philippines. Your review perfectly broke down all the wonderful, but difficult topics that this book covers and I’m now even more intrigued! I think it’s fantastic that you found a book you could relate to so well because of your heritage. It’s always so lovely when that happens! It’s one of the reasons why diverse stories from diverse authors is so important!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much, Malka 😄! Exactly! It’s books like this one that remind me why we need diverse stories 🙂. I’m so glad you’re interested in reading the book, Malka – I’m really interested to hear how you like it if you pick it up!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. there was so much effort put into this post and your video review, Belle! I really loved them 😍 even though I literally live in the Philippines, I also don’t really feel Filipino. Maybe because I’m not actually Filipino (full Chinese here 😂), but also because growing up, my sisters used to always get mad at our ancestors for immigrating to the Philippines and not some first world country like America. so as a child, I tried my best to distance myself from Filipino culture and until now I *suck* at speaking Tagalog. So I, too, related to Jay in that way. To be honest, I don’t remember much about this book even though I rated it 4 stars 😅 I like that it shined a light on the issues here in the Philippines, but I remember reading one review where someone said that this book didn’t do enough to impart the message that even if someone is a drug user, they’re still worthy of life, and I kinda agree with that reviewer. All in all, I’m still unsure whether I agree with how Patron Saints of Nothing handled its controversial subject matter, but I am happy to have read a America-published book set in the Philippines that’ll hopefully bring more awareness to the country’s current events. (Also, you’re right. The romance was pretty questionable because Mia had a boyfriend 🤦🏻‍♀️ I like that their relationship didn’t go that far, but it was still low-key emotional cheating, and I don’t know why that subplot needed to be there.)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much, Caitlin!! That’s so interesting that your ancestors came from China though! Do you speak any Chinese dialects? I had some Chinese-Filipino classmates in the Philippines, and I always found it cool how they connected to their Chinese culture in different ways.
      Hahaha that’s fair – sometimes I write a review, and the book is deleted from my brain 😂. And that’s a good point! The whole story read like the author was trying to be semi-partial about his stance on the drug war, so I definitely also feel like he should’ve made that message about human life, at the very least, clearer. I really hope the book brings more awareness too – and that people will do their own research into the issues! (Ughhh the emotional cheating 😷. I just don’t get it?? My friend mentioned something that I cut out from the video about how there’s a thing in the Philippines where they tease foreign visitors for meeting a girl? Like if visitors say that they want to live in the Philippines, some people will joke and ask them if they met someone? My friend thought maybe that’s what the author was referencing to, but I told her that she didn’t have to defend the romance HAHA 😂.) (also, sorry for the late reply – my time management is /messy/ 😅.)

      Liked by 1 person

      1. lol, no. my parents speak a dialect, but they didn’t teach me and my sisters 😂😂 i’ve been learning Mandarin since kindergarten since the school i go to is Chinese-Filipino. i’m nowhere near fluent in it though, haha
        yes, i think i’ve heard of that!! lol being a full Chinese who lives in the Philippines means that you don’t get some aspects of Filipino culture. i think it’s great that the author tried to include a nod to that, but it’s… still cheating. not okay.
        don’t worry!! i have poor time management too. and your replies are always so insightful—they’re worth the wait 🥺

        Liked by 1 person

      2. That’s still cool that you can speak a bit of Mandarin!! (My mom has been addicted to Chinese dramas lately and is unintentionally learning Mandarin because of them 😂.)
        Hahaha I really didn’t get it either 😬. Cheating is cheating is cheating 🤷🏻‍♀️.

        Liked by 1 person

  7. Oh what a brilliant revieew, Belle, I loved it so much ❤ I've heard amazing things about this book and, while it sounds like a tough read at times, I think I'll pick it up when I'm in the right mindset for it, because it sounds fantastic ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much, Marie 😄💛! All the good reviews I read for the book were really accurate! I hope you can pick it up when you feel ready for it – I’d really love to hear your thoughts 🙂.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Great review as always! I also have a copy of this and I was excited about it when it came out. I dont know why I haven’t read it yet, but most probably because it’s too close to home, and sometimes that can be too much. I will read it soon, and glad to know you recommend it ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much for reading this, Princess 💕! There’s for sure a ton of heavy matters in the book, and I don’t blame you for not picking it up yet 😕. My friend from the Philippines was also super hesitant to start the book. I hope you love it once you read it, and I can’t wait to hear what you think of it 🙂💛!

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