In looking for ways to diversify the books and authors that I read, I’ve been trying to find books/authors that coincide with different literary-themed months. For example, April is Asian Pacific Islander Heritage Month. I teach in a community with a strong Filipino-American heritage and I want my students to see themselves represented in the books they read and hear me talk about. Sadly, I and the publishing world have let them down. There doesn’t seem to be a proliferation of Asian/Pacific Islander authors, particularly in YA. Nevertheless, I have persisted to find books. It just so happened that as this past April approached I found this book.
It’s written by a Filipino author about a Filipino-American young man who returns to the Philippines to not only reconnect with his family, but with his heritage too. Jason Reguero was born in the Philippines and lived there for the first year of his life. Then, his parents moved their family to Michigan where we find Jason in his Senior year. He’s been accepted into Michigan, but isn’t excited about it, nor does he know what he wants to do. His apathy is broken when his father tells him that his cousin Jun is dead. This sets Jason on a quest to figure out what happened and how he can exercise the guild of ignoring jun for so long.
The crux of the book focuses on Duterte’s drug war in the Philippines. Jun’s father works for the police and becomes Jason’s suspect number 1 in his quest to find out what happened. Mixed into the text is the micro-aggressions he faces being a Filipino-American and how he navigates not knowing the language or culture of his family.
Throughout the story Jason not only learns more about his family, for better and worse, but he learns about himself. His strengths, weaknesses, and biases are laid bare as he enters a society that is somewhat foreign to him and a family that doesn’t want to confront the hurt of having one of their own murdered.
I recommend this book not only for personal reading but also for book clubs. I think there’s a lot to discuss and a lot to reflect on on. It certainly earned its place as a 2019 National Book Award Young Adult Honor selection.