My first novel by Matt de la Pena definitely won’t be my last. I love when a book takes me completely by surprise. I’ve had We Were Here kicking around my bookshelf for awhile. I brought it to Korea and am so glad I did.
When Miguel is sentenced to a group home for an unnamed crime, he is completely alone and hopeless. With nothing to lose, he teams up with Mondo (a psychotic Asian-American) and Rondell (an African-American with a low IQ) as enemies and friends to escape their home and head to a greater life in Mexico. Along the way, their personal demons catch up with them and the adventure is not what they expected it to be.
De la Pena brings an unexpected grittiness to the teenagers’ stories. Several times I had tears in my eyes because of the brutal lives that they unfairly had to live. Miguel, in particular, is a character that evokes sympathy. Through his diary entries, the reader watches him learn to love reading, relate his life to classic novels, and come to grips with the greatest mistake of his life. I loved the peek into the lives of teenagers in group homes and am interested in reading more about them.
Befitting its subject, the novel has curses, allusions to sex, and descriptions of abusive families. Teenagers will be drawn to de la Pena’s style and won’t be able to put down We Were Here.