Saturday Read: We Were Here, by Matt de la Pena

Since I’m elbow-deep in midterms, I’ve found myself reaching for young adult fiction recently. I’ve said it once, I’ll say it again: it’s entertaining and relatively easy to read, making for a relaxing break from my many textbooks.

My boyfriend actually bought “We Were Here” for me last Christmas. I know, it’s terrible of me to let a gifted book sit on my shelf for so long, but I wasn’t feeling it until recently (sorry, bf!). The main character of “We Were Here” is Miguel. We meet him just as he is being sent to a group home for nine months for a crime. He is very tight-lipped about the crime, which gives the whole novel a bit of suspense that I really enjoyed. Another part of his sentence requires Miguel to keep a journal of his time in the group home, which gives us the narration of the story.

While incarcerated, Miguel meets Rondell, an African-American teen who suffers from extremely violent outbursts and some mental delays, and Mong, a mysterious Asian boy who Miguel really can’t get a handle on. One evening, Mong tells Miguel that he plans to escape from the group home and head for Mexico and invites Miguel along. Rondell overhears this and, soon enough, they plan to break out. The escape is actually successful and after it, you get into the real “meat” of the story, as the teens travel up and down the California coast.

Perhaps it’s because I’m a psychology major, with a particular interest in forensic psychology (study of criminals, basically), but I was hooked on this one right from the get-go. Learning about the group home residents and their individual crimes was totally fascinating and fairly accurate. I also really liked the “journal perspective” style of writing. It allowed the reader to get a good grasp on Miguel and his demons and also allowed me to play psychologist and analyze him a bit! But, trust me, you don’t have to be a psych fanatic to enjoy this one.

Miguel is a great narrator and really doesn’t hold back. You get to know him fully, which makes the mystery of his crime all the more interesting. There are enough clues by the end that you can guess who the crime involves, but it really was tragic and shocking. I’m even tempted to go back and re-read “We Were Here” with the hindsight of his crime, as I think I might evaluate the story a bit differently with new perspective. Rondell and Mong are also endearing characters and are both so interesting. De la Pena worked hard to craft intricate stories for them, which fit perfectly with their crimes, actions, personality, etc. Again, things a psychology student would appreciate…

Just like all good teen fiction books, “We Were Here” was just plain honest. Miguel wrote everything down; no sugar-coating, no nothing. I find these kinds of books really make me feel something. There was a lot of “quotable” moments as well and I felt a bit wiser after every read.

“We Were Here” is a different type of a young adult fiction, but a truly great book for breaking up the monotony of midterms (nice alliteration!). Enjoy!

Got some free time? Need a good book to take your mind off of class? Check out Alex’s other book reviews!

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