This is an interesting perspective that I’m very glad I took the time to read. "Patron Saints of Nothing" follows high school senior Jason (Jay), born in the Philippines and raised in the Midwest, on a journey of discovery. After he finds out his cousin and childhood best friend has been killed, Jay takes it upon himself to return to the Philippines and investigate. His family back in the Philippines is unwilling to speak about what happened to his cousin Jun, which only prompts Jay to dig deeper.
Jay tries to reconcile the Jun he remembers with the new information he is uncovering. Why did Jun leave home? Was he really killed by the police for drug use? What else is his family concealing? Throughout his investigation, Jay is feeling deep regret at letting his long-distance correspondence with Jun slide over the years. He must also confront the tenuous experience of being a Filipino-American back in the land of his birth with precious little cultural context and only a handful of Tagalog. One of the strengths of this novel was the exploration of that experience, which is thoughtfully considered by the narrator.
Though this is a work of fiction, the political backdrop of Duterte’s war on drugs is all too real. And this landscape is the one that Jay must try to navigate in his search for the truth. There is an author's note in the back that had some additional resources about the current political climate in the Philippines, which I did look into. While I was aware of Duterte and his zero tolerance policy on drugs, I confess I did not know the extent of the situation. Social justice, complex family relationships, and the interplay of grief and guilt are all main themes of this novel. Obviously it’s not the happiest of stories, but it’s also not all doom and gloom. A solid addition to young adult fiction that I would recommend to those looking for a contemporary and important story set in a different place. It was also a finalist for the National Book Award and is available for free on Overdrive!