Monday, May 14, 2012

We Were Here - Review

Title: We Were Here
AuthorMatt de la Peña
Release Date: October 13, 2009
Format/Page CountKindle ebook/336 pages
Publisher: Random House Children's Books
Purchased: Amazon 

Synopsis The story of one boy and his journey to find himself.

When it happened, Miguel was sent to Juvi. The judge gave him a year in a group home—said he had to write in a journal so some counselor could try to figure out how he thinks. The judge had no idea that he actually did Miguel a favor. Ever since it happened, his mom can’t even look at him in the face. Any home besides his would be a better place to live.

But Miguel didn’t bet on meeting Rondell or Mong or on any of what happened after they broke out. He only thought about Mexico and getting to the border to where he could start over. Forget his mom. Forget his brother. Forget himself.

Life usually doesn’t work out how you think it will, though. And most of the time, running away is the quickest path right back to what you’re running from. (From GOODREADS)

Expectation: My expectations for this book were high. I just read Mexican WhiteBoy and thought it was amazing. I love this writer's I was pretty confident I would enjoy We Were Here just as much.

Market/Genre: Young Adult/Contemporary


‘People always think there’s this huge hundred-foot-high barrier that separates doing good from doing bad. But there’s not. There’s nothing. There’s not even a little anthill. You just take one baby step in any direction and you’re already there. You’ve done something awful. And your life is changed forever.’ ~ Matt de la Peña, We Were Here

This is one of the best young adult books I have ever read. Scratch that. This is one of the best books I have ever read.

At the onset of We Were Here, we get acquainted with Miguel, the narrator of the story as he is transferred from juvi to a halfway house. Miguel has a mindset that he has absolutely nothing to lose, and that he will never again have anything to gain. We are aware that he has done a bad thing—a terrible thing—but we are not quite sure what it is. We only know that he never wants to forget the burden of his guilt…that he wants to carry it with him forever and feel the extreme pain of his suffering.

This is the story of three troubled teens. Miguel, Rondell and Mong are a very unlikely trio. Miguel’s first encounter with the other two boys are violent. There is spitting and punching and a painful pinning to the ground. All of these things make the reader think Rondell and Mong will both soon be left in the dust of the story. But they would be wrong. The three eventually devise a plan to escape the halfway house together and make a run for freedom in Mexico.

Once they are out in the wilds of California, and heading for the ocean so they can travel south to Mexico, the story really takes off! Along the way, the reader is treated to a wealth of self-reflection from Miguel’s ongoing journal writing. We discover that he is a compassionate, thoughtful and intelligent young man. And we get to find out the back-stories of each of his traveling companions as Miguel sets off one night by himself to read the boys’ files, which he stole while preparing to leave the halfway house behind him.

It is also Miguel who allows the reader to see the good in the other two boys. Rondell, we are quick to learn, is not a bad kid…but a simple one. He believes in Jesus Christ and puts all his faith into a bible he cannot read but carries around with him all the same. Mong, who appears to be a psychotic hopelessly lost soul, turns out to be an overwhelmingly sad case. Nobody should endure the heartache and soul-breaking that Mong has been through in his young life. When he declares Miguel his best friend, it will baffle both Miguel and the reader…but it is such a pivotal moment in the story. Heartrending.

I love when authors namedrop books. I always have. In We Were Here, Miguel has a penchant for reading. Throughout the course of the story, he spends time with Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye and Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men. The reader cannot help but see Miguel as a modern day Holden, and Rondell as a modern day Lennie. At one point I found myself thinking, ‘Oh please, please, please…mention Camus’s The Stranger. You have to!’ And sure enough, the name was eventually dropped. Miguel’s second travel companion, Mong, is without a doubt Camus’s Meursault! This book is an homage to all three of these wonderful stories, but it is also SO much more than that. It is a story that, in itself, will definitely become a classic.

The potential reader of We Were Here will just have to take my word for it when I say this is one of the best books I have ever read. I don’t want to give away too much of it here. I can only say that it unfolds with a beauty I have not seen in a while. The reader will grow so close to these three boys, they will want to protect them from both themselves and the world around them as they set out on the journey of their lives. The journey they take makes men of boys, and makes each of them realize the wealth they carry inside. Your heart will break and strengthen and break again as you take every step alongside Miguel and his broken friends. And when you hope beyond hope that they do the right thing, they might even hear you.

This was a beautiful story. Be prepared to feel all of the emotions you carry…and some you didn’t know you had. I will be re-reading this every now and again…it’s one of those books you want to hug close to you when you’re finished.

Expectation - I thought Mexican WhiteBoy was a great book. This book...this book! I love it so much. Expectation was annihilated! Matt de la Peña has written the quintessential coming of age book, the quintessential on-the-road book and the quintessential friendship book all in one! It's a must read!

Size: 5 (1/2)

1 comment:

  1. I blew it and accidentally deleted this whole post from my blog. I had to google it and copy/paste from cache. I also copy/pasted the four original replies. Sorry for the confusion.

    boundbytheword May 14, 2012 11:23 AM

    Going to get my copy this week. I'm sold!

    I agree -I also love the book name dropping. When a reader is invested in the character, when they feel that connection and are given names of what the protagonist loves - the reader is more willing to give it a try. What a great selection of reads he gives too!

    proseandkahn May 14, 2012 1:31 PM

    Lovely review. It's one of my all time favorites as well. Each one of those boys has a permanent place in my heart, which broke multiple times through the story.


    Gabrielle Prendergast May 14, 2012 1:38 PM

    Great review. Great book. I loved it too.

    Kevin Craig May 14, 2012 1:40 PM

    Thanks to all for stopping by! Appreciate your comments. Noelle...I just KNOW you'll love this book. We can talk about it after you read it. (-: