Monday, April 26, 2010

Male Monday: We Were Here

We Were Here by Matt De La Pena 2009

Rating: 5/5

IQ "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." Miguel pg. 119

In We Were Here, we meet Miguel, Mong, Rondell and a host of other characters who come from different backgrounds. For most of the novel we focus on Miguel, Mong and Rondell. Miguel is half Mexican, half white. Mong is Chinese. Rondell is African American. Miguel is the seemingly "normal" one, he is standoffish when he enters the group home. Miguel is quite intelligent, but he never applied himself in school. While at the group home he begins reading a lot more. Mong has scars all over his face and a shaved head, "this Mong dude wasn't like that [a quiet, studious Asian]. He was a different kind of Asian kid." Mong is not afraid to get in fights, he's vicious and never backs down. He has no fear. Rondell is muscular, mentally slow and a Bible thumper. He' also an amazing basketball player. These three boys should not be able to function well together, but they break out of juvi together and that begins their adventure across California in an attempt to get to Mexico.

I'm writing this with review with tears in my eyes. Just revisiting this book makes me want to cry. I was well through this book and I was doing alright, I was enraptured by the story, mainly because the author does not tell you why Miguel is in a juvenile home. It's revealed at the end. And then, I lost it. Not full out sobbing, but the tears were falling. It's so SAD! How could the author do that to me (haha, selfish much?) and all other readers. I was so crushed by the ending, but I was sort of expecting it. Deep down I had already guessed what he did but I was so hoping that I would be wrong. *pauses to get tissues* (this is why you write reviews in advance and not the day of!)

The characters in this novel all seem like people you might know. Maybe not at first, but beneath the surface, they are just like so many of us, they just happen to have a prison sentence. Some of the boys come from truly horrific situations. As a full disclosure, I had tears in my eyes at Mong and Rondell's stories too. Miguel begins devouring every book in sight while in the group home. When the boys break out, he takes a stack of books with him. He has one of my favorite quotes about reading "When I'm following what a character does in a book I don't have to think about my own life. Where I am. Why I'm here. My moms and my brother and my old man. I can just think about the character's life and try and figure out what's gonna happen. Plus when you're in a group home you pretty much can't go anywhere, right? But when you read books you almost feel like you're out there in the world. Like you're going on this adventure right with the main character. At least, that's the way I do it. It's actually not that bad. Even if it is mad nerdy." (pg. 41). I love all the characters in this book (except for the store owner, boo), but I have a special fondness for Jaden. Jaden is the counselor at the group home and he's the surfer type. Y'know; blond, white teeth, blue eyes. But he's watching over "hardened criminals" who are mostly Black and Mexican (one white boy) and he GETS them. While the boys scoff at him and his insights, the reader sees that the boys do respect him and value what he has to say. Often he understands them better than they understand themselves. However, the novel introduces readers to Diego (Miguel's brother), Miguel's parents (alhtough we don't learn too much about Miguel's father), Mei-li (Mong's cousin) and other minor characters who make appearances in the book and make this book a wonderful read. It's also clear that the author loves basketball, its not a major part of the novel but when the game and its players are described its with appreciation and awe.

We Were Here is a poignant, heartbreaking story about boys searching for redemption and themselves. Along the way, they dream of being fishermen and fighting the Devil. The narrative is honest, Miguel is writing the story. he only wants to record the facts, he leaves out much of his feelings, but it comes through in the conversations that he records. At the risk of being a cliche and too gushy, I will part on this note: we often judge criminals based on their crimes. Which is ok to a certain point. However, in the demanding of justice, we must also make the effort through our pain and horror, to understand why the person committed the crime that they did. The environment they grew up in can also play a big role in why a crime is committed and Matt De La Pena shows the struggle that I think many people who have committed crimes go through; being able to forgive themselves. It's a constantly evolving process.

Disclosure: Received from Lyn. Thank you so so much!


  1. I'm glad you liked the book. I think it's his best one yet--and the other ones are very, very good. I like how he makes all three main characters memorable and multidimensional.

  2. I'm not sure I could take the sadness you're talking about in this book right now, but I'm going to add the title to my library queue anyway - because you think so highly of it. It sounds lovely.

  3. Ah, thanks so much for checking out the book! I know there are a ton of great ones out there, and it always gets me when somebody takes the time to give one of mine a shot. Thank you! It makes me sad, too. But I think sadness can be beautiful

    matt de la pena

  4. I have this one on my shelf, but haven't been able to read it yet. I want to though. (Perhaps after I turn in this monster paper tomorrow . . . and after I cook the cheesecake b/c I can't wait since JF is borrowing the mixer on Wednesday . . . )

  5. Fabulous review of what looks like an amazing story. Once again you have brought me a new title to add to my list of must reads, and one that will end up a valuable addition to my classroom. Thank you!

  6. Oh man, this sounds wonderful. What a great way to put a twist on the old standard road trip story. I know we have it at the library - I'll definitely be giving this one a try.

  7. After that review, I've got to read this book. Thanks, Ari!

  8. You've made this sound so amazing, especially because I'm way too fond of the tearjerkers. It's definitely going on my TBR pile.

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  10. @Lyn-I'm even more excited to read his other books now!

    @celi.a-Lovely is not the right word. It's...indescribable. Hmm. Heartbreakingly lovely.

    @Matt-there is a sort of beauty in pain and sadness, it makes us stronger. Thank you so much for stopping by and commenting. We Were Here is wonderful (as you can obviously tell)

    @Liviana-do your paper and read while making the cheesecake! lol

    @Jan-Thank you for constantly commenting and taking the time to tell me that. I think your students will really like this book :)

    @biblauragraphy-So true, they don't even spend much of it in a car. it's great =)

    @Christine-I love seeing your name appear here =D Read We Were here!

    @Mary-This book is ideal for you then because it is a tearjerker. Haha too fond of tearjerkers? As Mr. De la Pena said, you find the beauty in sadness.

    @Booklover-Thank you. I'll check it out.

  11. Have you read Mexican Whiteboy? I really liked that one.

  12. @Anica-No this was my first novel by De La Pena, but so not my last! That's the one i want to read next :)


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