Patron Saints of Nothing by Randy Ribay (2021)

I dove into this and finished in two days. Unfamiliar with the author or the title, I had no expectations except the recommendation of my colleague who always has great book ideas. He picked this one for this month’s lit club, and what a good choice. It’s a young adult book, but like so many YAF books, it’s great for adults, too. It’s a coming of age story, a friendship between two cousins, a mystery as one disappears, and a hunt as the other one won’t give up the search. Most of the story takes place in The Philippines where President Duterte’s war on drugs means arresting or even killing drug users or suspected drug users, showing little or no human rights. While this is fiction, it feels like a front row seat to the current Filipino political climate with Duterte’s draconian policies. But like our “tough on crime” policies here in the US, many people love the idea because it sounds good. I mean who doesn’t want crime and drugs to go away? But when we use these phrases that seem like good policies, there’s a lot that people don’t see. In the book, it’s literally rounding up anyone out on the street late at night who even looks like they might be using drugs. They might be hauled to jail or just killed on the spot. With our main character, Jay, a high school senior recently accepted into U of Michigan, it’s a lot to travel to The Philippines, meet the side of the family still living there, and try to understand the culture and their outlook on crime and drugs. Captivating story and good writing–a National Book Award Finalist.

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