Childish Nonsense

Exploring Children's Literature

We Were Here

on June 9, 2013

Here is a book I can’t recommend enough, especially for teens of mixed race. I gotta tell ya, as a reviewer of books, I run into a lot bad crap out there. It’s only when I find a gem like this one do I know why I have to keep reading.

We Were Here

Matt de la Peña

Delacorte Press, 2009,

Hardcover, 356 pages

ISBN 978-0-385-73667-1We Were Here

When the story begins, Miguel is in Juvi Hall as a result of an unspecified crime. He’s quickly moved to a group home, where he lets the other boys think he stole a bike. The reader gets enough information to suspect the crime was much worse. Down the road, he finds that many of the other residents have led much worse lives than he has. But Miguel does his best to insulate himself from the rest of the boys. One very disturbed individual, Mong, convinces him to leave the home with him, with the eventual destination of Mexico. Miguel’s roommate, a slow-witted large black adolescent named Rondell, insists on being included in the escape. The trio travel from San Francisco to San Diego and back. The characters they encounter are wonderful and diverse. Every one of them affects how Miguel sees the world and how he reacts to it. Mong’s gorgeous cousin and Miguel’s grandmother are especially memorable. The situations the boys end up in seem very real. Life on the streets can be brutal.

The story is written as a journal, complete with dates. It is supposed represent the journal the judge requires Miguel to keep as a therapeutic tool. Therefore, the reader only knows as much as Miguel is willing to put into words – a very effective device that allows for surprises in the end.  Writers of juvenile fiction are told they have to allow the main character to solve his own problems. De la Peña does this beautifully. Even Rondell and Mong come up with their own solutions. One of the most compelling themes is in showing how one moment can determine a whole life’s direction. But the author also shows how further action can move events in a better direction. You can’t change the past but you sure can guide the future.

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