Patron Saints of Nothing

An angry-looking young man (who's illustrated, not photographed) looks to have fire coming out of his hands.

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Book Review

In Patron Saints of Nothing by Randy Ribay, 17-year-old Jay learns that his cousin in the Philippines has been murdered. Jay flies to his family’s homeland to uncover the truth about Jun’s death.

Plot Summary

Jay Reguero is a Filipino-American teen living in Michigan. A typical American high school senior, he plans to attend college the following year and spend the summer playing video games. Then his parents tell him his Filipino cousin, Jun, is dead. Jay and Jun had only met a few times, but they enjoyed an active pen-pal relationship for many years until Jay became too lazy to write. Jay’s parents reveal Jun was murdered as part of the Filipino president’s war on drugs. Whatever happened was so egregious, Jun’s father, Uncle Maning, won’t even hold a funeral.

Jay’s online research convinces him the new president’s methods for ridding the country of drugs are rash and unjust. He sees gruesome online images of suspected addicts being shot on sight. Jay remembers Jun as a thoughtful, sensitive individual and can’t imagine his cousin being a drug user, let alone a dealer. He convinces his parents to let him visit his Filipino family during spring break. He secretly plans to investigate Jun’s murder.

Jay stays with Jun’s family. He distrusts his Uncle Maning, a high-ranking police officer, and searches his uncle’s office for information about Jun’s death. He suspects Maning may have even been involved. Maning kicks Jay out of the house after discovering the boy’s violation of privacy. Jay stays with other relatives who are more sympathetic to his desire to vindicate Jun. He remains in contact with Jun’s sister, Grace, who also wants to know what happened.

Jay tracks Jun’s activities after he left home and broke ties with Maning. Despite uncovering a few unsettling surprises, Jay still refuses to believe Jun was involved with dangerous drugs. He and Grace confront Maning, who denies any involvement in Jun’s murder. He says if they don’t believe him, they should talk to Uncle Danilo.

Danilo, Maning’s brother and a priest, admits Jun visited him shortly before his death and confessed to using and dealing drugs. Grace and Jay struggle to believe it, even though they can see Danilo is telling the truth. They decide this information does not change what they knew and loved about Jun, and it does not make him a bad person.

The family has an informal memorial service for Jun in which even Maning participates. Jay decides to spend some time in the Philippines before attending college so he can learn more about his heritage and family.

Christian Beliefs

A younger Jun, questioning his faith, asks Jay in a letter if he believes in God, heaven and hell. Jay says he believes the Bible because God wrote it. Danilo says Jun asked him a lot of questions about God. These inquiries caused the priest to ponder and grow stronger.

Jay and Jun are both frequently critical of the Catholic Church and what they perceive to be its hypocrisy. They contend the Church doesn’t care about the poor or the common man. They refer to stories such the good Samaritan or the Ten Commandments to make their points about the church’s negligence.

Jay mocks the story Abraham’s plan to sacrifice his son, Isaac, which God stopped at the last moment because He was, as Jay says, “just kidding.” Jay’s friend Seth is an outspoken atheist.

Jay admits he found some comfort in attending church. His family went for a while when he was younger because his parents wanted to raise him right. Jay and Jun discuss what type of saints they’d like to be. Jay suggests people are both good and bad, and the best they can do is try to tip the scales toward the good. He says if Jun couldn’t make it to heaven, then who could? Some Filipinos superstitiously suggest Jun’s soul is not at rest.

 

Other Belief Systems

As mentioned, we hear the perspectives of some characters who don’t believe in a Christian or spiritual worldview.

Authority Roles

Jay’s aunts and uncles try to help him answer his difficult questions and understand their country. Maning seems harsh and controlling, but he and Jay come to an understanding when Jay learns the truth about Jun’s past. Jay’s parents are hardworking medical professionals. They reluctantly let him go to the Philippines alone to visit his family.

Profanity & Violence

Frequent profanity and vulgarities include f- and s-words, “d-ck,” “d–n” “a–” “h—” and “screw.” Jay sees and describes gory online images of police brutality and people suffering and dying in the drug war.

Sexual Content

Photos of people killed in the drug war include gay couples. Jay’s brother, aunt and teenage cousin, Grace, are all homosexuals. The new president of the Philippines is lauded for making contraception available to all women. Jun falls in love and lives with a girl who was trafficked before they met.

Discussion Topics

Drugs and alcohol: Jay doesn’t drink much at home but drinks with his family in the Philippines. He talks to his sister on the phone when she’s hungover. His friend Seth regularly smokes pot. Jay doesn’t join him because he’s too afraid of getting caught. Jay doesn’t believe Jun was a meth dealer and addict until his investigation proves that he was. Jay and Jun condemn the war on drugs, saying addicts should be helped rather than shot on sight.

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