Everything We Never Had

Everything We Never Had
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Release Date
August 27, 2024
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From the author of the National Book Award finalist Patron Saints of Nothing comes an emotionally charged, moving novel about four generations of Filipino American boys grappling with identity, masculinity, and their fraught father-son relationships.

Watsonville, 1930. Francisco Maghabol barely ekes out a living in the fields of California. As he spends what little money he earns at dance halls and faces increasing violence from white men in town, Francisco wonders if he should’ve never left the Philippines.

Stockton, 1965. Between school days full of prejudice from white students and teachers and night shifts working at his aunt’s restaurant, Emil refuses to follow in the footsteps of his labor organizer father, Francisco. He’s going to make it in this country no matter what or who he has to leave behind.

Denver, 1983. Chris is determined to prove that his overbearing father, Emil, can’t control him. However, when a missed assignment on “ancestral history” sends Chris off the football team and into the library, he discovers a desire to know more about Filipino history―even if his father dismisses his interest as unamerican and unimportant.

Philadelphia, 2020. Enzo struggles to keep his anxiety in check as a global pandemic breaks out and his abrasive grandfather moves in. While tensions are high between his dad and his lolo, Enzo’s daily walks with Lolo Emil have him wondering if maybe he can help bridge their decades-long rift.

Told in multiple perspectives, Everything We Never Had unfolds like a beautifully crafted nesting doll, where each Maghabol boy forges his own path amid heavy family and societal expectations, passing down his flaws, values, and virtues to the next generation, until it’s up to Enzo to see how he can braid all these strands and men together.

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Multigenerations Filipino American Saga
(Updated: July 02, 2024)
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When Francisco Maghabol's father leaves his mother and sisters in early 1900s Manila, his mother is barely able to make ends meet. Francisco is sent to the US to work and send money back to the family. While missionaries and others have said that there were lots of jobs and good money, this is not the case. He ends up working long hours in the field, and having to use his scant pay to reimburse farmers for clothing, shelter, and basic tools of the trade. He does have the community of other immigrants from the Philippines, and socialized at a dance hall. When local white citizens got angry with their daughters talking to immigrants, Francisco gets caught in the middle of the Watsonville Riots. A good friend is killed, and Francisco embarks on a life of social activism, trying to get justice and fair treatment for farmworkers. In 1965, we meet his son, Emil, who is angry that he has to work long hours at his aunt's restaurant when he should be spending time studying for school. He's bright, and would like to go to college, but his father is rarely home, and too invested in the community to pay attention to his family. As the Delano Grape Strike and Boycott heats up, Francisco wants Emil to join him. When Emil does, he learns alarming things about his father, and returns home to his grandmother, Beatriz, determined to distance himself from his family as well as the Filipino American community. He gets a degree in engineering, marries a white woman, and raises his son Chris without any cultural knowledge or background. In 1983, Chris' grades are slipping, and his father forces him to quit the football team. Chris has failed to turn in a history project, and ends up spending a lot of time at the library, delving into books and microfiche to learn more about the history of the Philippines. He is surprised, and also horrified at the murder of Beningo Aquino. When he tries to talk to his father about this, his father tells him there is nothing to be gained from delving into the past. The two have a huge falling out. Chris becomes a science teacher, and lives with his Latine wife Julia and son Enzo in Philadelphia in 2020. He has a better relationship with Enzo, and celebrates his culture with community, culture, and cooking. Enzo is an anxious teen, and as the COVID-19 pandemic descends, he is not happy that Emil moves out of his assisted living facility and takes over Enzo's room. Enzo has a tendency to spiral, and refers to his disturbing thoughts as "murder hornets". His parents are both supportive and have him in therapy, but having Emil around is stressful. Chris and Emil cannot managed to get along, and Chris has taken up smoking again. Enzo does go for walks with his grandfather and his dog, Thor, and the two end up talking a good deal. When Enzo suggests that Chris join them, it ends in a fight. Will the generations be able to overcome their differences and come to some mutual understanding that will allow them to be a connected family?
Good Points
This young adult is told in alternating perspectives, which are clearly listed by character, time, and place at the beginning of the chapters, so the book is not as linear as this synopsis. This allows the past, and the ramifications of the occurrences, to be revealed slowly. We start to understand why Francisco went off on his own, why Emil thinks that providing materially for his children is enough, and why Chris is angry. There is a thread of toxic masculinity that ties the stories together, and at the end, Enzo helps his father and grandfather mend their relationship a little bit, but it's hard to reprogram generations' worth of behavior. At least Enzo and Chris have a better relationship.

The pandemic is worked into this book in a very effective way, and I loved how so much Filipino history was showcased. There is even some mention of World War II in the Philippines, and the promises to immigrants who came to the US that were broken.

Mental health treatments and perception varies over time, and Enzo's anxiety, as well as how he is taught to handle it, are all on trend. While Emil thinks that Enzo's sensitivity is a weakness, Chris thinks it is beautiful. This will resonate with many young people today who can only feel that their parents love them if they have deep, philosophical conversations with their parents, and if generations try to know and understand each other.

There are a growing number of books by Filipino American writers, so Ribay's latest title is a good one to add to a collection that includes de la Cruz's Something in Between, Salaysay's Private Lessons, and Apostol's La Tercera, as well as Ribay's The Patron Saint of Nothing.

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