Book Review: Patron Saints of Nothing

When Stripes Publishing did a blogger callout asking for people to review Patron Saints of Nothing by Randy Ribay, I grabbed the opportunity with both hands. I’m so glad I did, because this is a stunning book I might not have picked up otherwise.

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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.

When Jay Reguero hears of his cousin Jun’s death, everything changes. Although years have passed since they were last in contact, the stories about Jun just don’t fit with the boy Jay knew. Hoping to uncover the truth, Jay travels to Jun’s home in the Philippines – but the shocking realities of life there lead to even more questions. Can Jay find the answers he seeks?

A gripping and lyrical YA novel for fans of Angie Thomas’s THE HATE U GIVE, Patrice Lawrence’s ORANGEBOY and Nic Stone’s DEAR MARTIN.
I’m not going to lie, I did put off reading Patron Saints of Nothing for a little bit because I wasn’t in the mood for such a heavy topic. I was wrong to do so, because it meant I took so much longer than I should to find out just how good this book is. I absolutely loved it, even though it did make me cry, but then it made me laugh too, and the journey it took me on was hard, but amazing.
Jay Reguero, our main character, is a Filipino-American, who left the Philippines with his family when he was very young. He’s only ever been back once, when he was ten, but while he was there, he bonded with his cousin, Jun, who was only three days younger than him. They keep in touch through letters until they’re about 14, when Jay finds other things to do with his time and just never writes back. Four years later, he learns Jun has been killed as part of President Duterte’s war on drugs, but can’t rationalise the Jun he knew with a drug dealer and addict, and so he decides to travel to the Philippines to try and find out the truth.
Jay is such a great character. He doesn’t really feel like he fits in at school – there aren’t many other non-white kids for starters – and he doesn’t really know what he wants to do once he graduates. He has a college place at a good school but he’s not excited by it at all. HIs older siblings seem to know exactly what they want and are out getting it, but Jay just feels a bit lost. And then he finds out Jun has died. Not only that, because of the way he died, there’s not going to be a funeral or memorial, and nobody will mention his name. Jay is completely thrown by this and his grief practically swarms off the page. He can’t concentrate on anything other than Jun. He researches what’s happening in the Philippines, something he’s never done before, and he starts to feel ashamed that he had no idea what’s been going on there. He also realises he’s never going to find out what actually happened to Jun by just sitting in his bedroom and he persuades his parents to let him go and visit the rest of his family – which they allow, on the condition he obeys his uncle and never mentions Jun.
I loved how we got to see Jay learning more about his family and getting to know them as adults. It was also interesting to see how he felt he didn’t fit in there anymore than he felt he fitted in in America. His uncle takes every opportunity to denigrate Jay for being too American and not Filipino enough, and he’s disgusted Jay doesn’t know more about the history or language of the Philippines. Even his nice relatives don’t think Jay can understand what’s happening in the country because he’s too much of an outsider. As we go through the book, we see Jay learning and understanding more and more about a heritage he left behind years earlier, and unpacking his identity and privilege. Also, his Tita Chato and Tita Ines were awesome and I’d quite like to see them in a book of their own!
I also loved how we got to know Jun through the letters he wrote to Jay. It was really quite bittersweet, knowing that the person who had written them had died, but it was also very effective in making us care about Jun, and allowing us to see why Jay was so convinced that he was being lied to.
The other thing I thought Ribay did really well was educating his readers about the war on drugs in the Philippines. I must admit, I had no idea this was happening, and I thought he included the information we needed in a very readable, but still sensitive  way. He doesn’t pull his punches though. The consequences of Duterte’s brutal war are laid bare on the page, and it can be a hard read at times. There’s also an author’s note at the back with resources for your own research.
This review has in no way done justice to the book, but I think it’s definitely one of those books you just have to read. Once you’ve read it, you’ll understand. I really didn’t expect to love it in the way that I do but there you go. Sometimes a book surprises you, or you read it at just the right time. I urge you to give Patron Saints of Nothing a go – but I’d probably make sure you have tissues nearby!
(If you’d like to read what Filipino reviewers think of the book – and I highly recommend that you do – check out the US blog tour hashtag on twitter #PatronSaintsPHTour)
5/5
Patron Saints of Nothing is released in the UK on 27 June by Stripes Publishing, who kindly sent me a gifted copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.
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Blog Tour: Tulip Taylor

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It’s my turn on the Tulip Taylor blog tour today, and I’m delighted to be sharing my review with you. Contemporary YA is my go-to read at the moment, so getting to read Tulip Taylor [gifted] by Anna Mainwaring was a real treat!

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Challenged to go on a `survival’ reality TV show, fifteen-year-old make-up vlogger Tulip only accepts to escape her mother’s money-making schemes and protect her younger brother and sister. Set up to fail, can she prove to the TV show, to Harvey – the cute but annoying boy who got her on there – and most importantly to herself, that she’s more than just a pretty face? As Tulip puts down her phone and heads for the hills, she finds she has both the courage and insight to take on each new challenge. But as ‘reality’ gets ever more crazy, will either teen escape their families and their time in the spotlight unscathed?

As someone who is very sceptical of reality shows and incredibly popular vloggers, I wondered how I’d get on with Tulip. I’m pleased to report it was very well indeed, and I very much enjoyed reading her story. Tulip herself is a great teenage character – she’s very confident on the outside, but inside she’s plagued with all the usual anxieties. She’s found that make-up helps calm her down – she’s literally putting on a face to the outside world, presenting herself as she wants to be seen. She’s incredibly accomplished at what she does, but also very aware that because it’s make-up, and a ‘girl thing’, others think she’s daft and vapid, and this was something that rang so, so true. It also serves as the trigger point for the story – Harvey, new to the school, thinks that because Tulip is obsessed with make-up, she’s also stupid, and is very surprised to find out that’s not true.

I didn’t get on as well with Harvey as I did Tulip. At some points early on, he seems incapable of realising people can have many facets. Fortunately, he does eventually realise the error of his ways, and as the book goes on, I did become much more sympathetic to him. Harvey has his own issues he’s dealing with, not least that it’s clear to him his older brother is the favoured son. There were some really interesting parallels between Tulip and Harvey and the way their respective parents behaved, and I enjoyed seeing the two of them become closer as the book went on.

Speaking of Tulip’s parents – oh my goodness, how she hasn’t already killed her mother I don’t know! Tulip’s mum has completely thrown herself into the world of online influencers in a desperate bid to make ends meet, and she makes some quite suspect decisions as part of this – including installing cameras around the house so the whole family can be recorded 24/7. Tulip tries to reign in the wildest excesses, but there’s only so much a 15 year old can do, and in the end, the only way she can find to stop her mum’s scheme is to go on the show being run by Harvey’s father, and give her own father time to come up with some money. As reasons go for pushing yourself to do something you know you’ll hate, it’s a pretty good one, and I loved that Tulip’s main motivation was to protect her younger brother and sister.

I think I pretty much knew how the survival section would go, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t fun finding out if I was right or not! I did get frustrated with some of Tulip’s fellow contestants and how judgemental they were, but I loved Tulip proving them wrong again and again. There were definitely a few moments when I wanted to cheer, on both Tulip and Harvey’s behalf!

In short, I really enjoyed Tulip Taylor. It’s a fun YA contemporary with a serious message about discovering who you are and being true to yourself. It’s also, I think, got a good message about switching off from social media every now and again – nobody needs to be online all the time, and you never know what you might discover about yourself if you give it a try!

Don’t forget to check out the other stops on the blog tour!

4/5

Tulip Taylor by Anna Mainwaring is out on 20 June from Firefly Press. Many thanks to Firefly, Bounce Marketing and Faye Rogers for my gifted copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.

Blog Tour: Somewhere Close To Happy

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Today I’m thrilled to be part of the blog tour for Somewhere Close To Happy, the debut novel by Lia Louis. I’ve followed Lia on Twitter since before her book deal was announced, so I jumped at the chance to receive a gifted copy from Trapeze Books and review her novel!

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Lizzie James is happy. She has a steady office job (with a steady stream of tray bakes), has had the same best friend since secondary school, and she sees her family every Thursday night for take-away and TV. Granted, some members of her family she’d rather not see, and they definitely don’t want to see her after what happened back then… but on the whole she’s happy. Or somewhere close to it, anyway.

Until a letter arrives one day from her best friend, Roman. A letter dated 12 years ago, the exact day he went missing.

It brings all her painful memories flooding back: the new school she had to go to when she was ill, losing her beloved granddad, Hubble, and then losing her first love. As Lizzie uncovers the secrets of the letter, she starts to discover what really happened the year her life fell apart – and all avenues lead back to Roman.

Who sent her the letter, and what happened to Roman?

I won’t lie, Somewhere Close To Happy isn’t my usual choice of book. If you’ve been around for a while, you’ll know I tend to read either middle grade, young adult or fantasy books. But sometimes I just fancy a really good piece of adult contemporary fiction, and that’s what I got with Somewhere Close To Happy.

The story is told through a mix of present day and flashbacks, and I really liked this style as it gently led us to the only ending there could be. It worked really well, and allowed us to get to know all the characters. Obviously this was particularly important in Roman’s case, because otherwise we would only get to know him through Lizzie talking about him, and I don’t think we would be as invested in her trying to find him in that case. The flashbacks allow us to see why he means so much to her, rather than just being told, and we come to care about him as much as Lizzie does. It also gives us insight into Lizzie herself, as we see that she essentially put her life on hold when she was 16, because that seemed to be the easiest way to deal with it.

There were a few moments when I wished the story was told was told in a more linear way – it was frustrating to try and work out what exactly The Grove was, for example, or what had happened to make Lizzie’s aunt hate her so much – but on the whole the style worked for me, and I enjoyed the background being filled in slowly.

Character wise, I loved Lizzie and her immediate family, and couldn’t stand her Aunt Shall, although I’m pretty certain you’re supposed to feel that way about her! She’s so vile to Lizzie and constantly make everything about her, so when Lizzie finally stands up to her, I almost cheered! Fortunately, Lizzie is mostly surrounded by good people – her best friend Priscilla is an absolute darling, as is her sister-in-law, Katie – and they are there to support her as she revisits one of the most painful times in her life.

I also wanted to mention the mental health rep in Somewhere Close To Happy. It’s a really excellent portrayal of how mental illness can be an ongoing battle – maybe not constant, but often there in the background – how there are good and bad days, how easy it can be sometimes to hide the bad days, and how much a lack of understanding from your loved ones can affect you. It also covers grief, addiction, unwanted pregnancy and family drama, dealing with them all sensitively and realistically, without ever taking your focus away from the main story.

I really enjoyed Somewhere Close To Happy. It’s a quiet, gentle book about life and journeys, and the people we meet on the way who shape it in ways we could never imagine. It’s an incredibly well crafted book, and well worth your time.

Don’t forget to check out the other stops on the blog tour!

4/5

Somewhere Close To Happy is released in the UK on 13 June by Trapeze Books