by Randy Ribay
Reviewed by Eileen Quinn Knight, Ph.D.
This is a National Book Award Finalist, a powerful coming-of-age story about grief, guilt, and the risks a Filipino American teenager takes to uncover the truth about his cousin’s murder. Joe Reguero plans to spend the last semester of his senior year playing video games before heading to the University of Michigan in the fall. But when he discovers that his Filipino cousin Jon was murdered as part of President Duterte’s war on drugs, and no one in the family wants to talk about what happened. Jay travels to the Philippines to find out the real story.
Hoping to uncover more about Jun and the events that led to his death, Jay is forced to reckon with the many sides of his cousin before he can face the whole horrible truth—and the part he played in it. The favorite letter from Jun:
“1 Nov 2014
Dear Kuya Jay,
Today is All Saints Day in the Philippines. Do you celebrate this day in the United States? Almost all Filipinos have this day off. Many of us go to the cemetery. We bring blankets, candles, food, drink, guitars and so on and spend the day at the tombs of our loved ones. We eat, we play music, and we talk and laugh and tell stories about the dead. I know this probably seems strange. All of the graveyards I see in American TV shows and movies are always dark and scary and empty except when there is a funeral. But here it is a celebration. A time to honor our dead and remember their lives. I think this is a healthy thing to do. The day is also meant to celebrate the saints, of course, for example, maybe you have already heard of St. Blaise, the patron saint of wild animals, veterinarians, and throat ailments. Did you know he lived in a cave with all those wild animals? I think that’s really cool. Anyway, there are also many other lesser-known saints. There is a St. Apollonia, the patron saint of dentists, St. Lydwina, the patron saint of ice skaters; St Drogo, the patron saint of ugly people and –another one of my favorites—St. Clotilde, the patron saint of disappointing children……………. Anyway, assuming this is all real, and you were canonized someday what would you want to be able to help people with? I know it is hard to think of something for which there is not already a patron saint! Personally I would like to be St. Jun, the patron saint ….of nothing. St. Nothing, I guess.
St. Nothing (I smile to myself as I put the letter away. I rest my head against the window and close my eyes. I drift off to sleep thinking of my cousin and me, of humanity and its problems, of oceans and islands. I imagine both of us, patron saints of Nothing).” This is a fascinating book that is mesmerizing and thrilling and sends a wonderfully clear message to reconcile faith, family and the immigrant identity.