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We Were Here

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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 the Hardcover edition.

368 pages, Hardcover

First published October 5, 2009

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About the author

Matt de la Peña

43 books1,399 followers
Matt de la Peña is the New York Times best-selling, Newbery-medal-winning author of six young adult novels and four picture books. Matt received his MFA in creative writing from San Diego State University and his BA from the University of the Pacific, where he attended school on a full athletic scholarship for basketball. de la Peña currently lives in Brooklyn, NY. He teaches creative writing and visits high schools and colleges throughout the country.

Visit Matt at: mattdelapena.com

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5 stars
1,299 (41%)
4 stars
1,124 (35%)
3 stars
553 (17%)
2 stars
129 (4%)
1 star
48 (1%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 553 reviews
Profile Image for Brigid ✩.
581 reviews1,819 followers
December 11, 2015
"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 doing something awful. And your life is changed forever.”

A couple months ago, I saw Matt de la Peña speak on a panel at Boston Book Festival along with Andrew Smith, Jason Reynolds, and Brendan Kiely. Besides Smith (who is one of my favorite authors), I hadn't heard of the other authors on the panel––but it was such a great conversation, I knew I would have to try all of their books.

So, this is the first book by de la Peña that I've read. I didn't really know what to expect going into it––but I'm glad I tried it, because ultimately I really enjoyed it. I had mixed feelings about a few aspects of it, but over all, I found myself getting really immersed in the story and it was difficult to put down.

What I liked:

I enjoyed Miguel's narration. He has a strong, believable voice.

The characters are complex and interesting. There's definitely a lot of moral gray area because the three main characters are escaped criminals, and they have all done awful things. Yet, they are made into sympathetic characters who are not all-good or all-bad. I became super invested in their journey and in their friendship.

It's a powerful story. I know there are some scenes in this book I'll never forget. There are some really tragic, heart-breaking moments––but they're beautifully done, and they'll definitely stick with me.

What didn't work for me:

This book could have been slimmed down. At 350+ pages, it felt a little too long. It was fast reading––but there were often paragraphs that took up entire pages, long rants, Miguel re-hashing things the reader already knew, etc. I know it's supposed to be a diary and therefore unedited/rambling, but sometimes I found myself skimming because some of it just felt like unneeded filler.

Believability issues. I always have a bit of a problem with diary-format books. I just can't get myself to believe the level of detail, that the writer would spend time writing out actual conversations/dialogue, etc. Although I liked the narration, I had trouble believing in it as an actual journal.

I found a few things a bit offensive:

- I know they're teenage boys and this is ""just the way teenagers talk"" but I did get a little uncomfortable at the use of words like "gay" and "retarded" being thrown around. There weren't too many incidents of this, but it still kinda bothered me.

- This is probably my biggest issue with this book, which is the portrayal of Rondell. I liked him and sympathized with him, but ... honestly at times, his characterization felt racist to me: He's big and hulking, he's portrayed as really slow/dim-witted, he's prone to outbursts of rage and randomly attacking people––oh, but he's really loyal and he's great at basketball! ... *cringes* There were some hints at him having an interesting backstory, but I felt that he was often just kind of used for laughs, and a lot of his character was based on stereotypes. And I just wish that hadn't been the case, because it took away from the story for me.

- Also, the portrayal of women. There aren't a lot of female characters in this book––and okay, I guess I can live with that. But when women did occasionally appear, they were often sexualized/objectified right off the bat––and on top of that, they didn't have much personality. The only female character that was somewhat interesting was Miguel's mom, but there wasn't much of her.

Plus there was one part where Miguel was like "lol no offense but I think it's weird when women are muscular!! like who wants to make out with a muscular woman? that'd be like making out with a dude and that's so gaaaay lol." ... And yeah I just. No.

The ending was a little predictable. So, this is one of those books with a Big Secret. That is, Miguel doesn't tell you the crime he committed until the end of the book––the whole time he just alludes to "this terrible, fucked-up thing I did" and is all secretive about it. And I think the problem with things like that is, you know there's going to be a "Big Plot Twist" at the end, so from the get-go you're already starting to guess what it is. And well, I'm not sure what tipped it off for me, but for some reason I just knew what that "Big Plot Twist" was going to be ... and I was right. So I don't know, I feel like the story wouldn't have lost much impact if we'd just known all along.

The final word:

I feel like that's a long list of complaints––but really, the good aspects of this book outweighed the bad ones for me. I did have some issues with it, but over all the story is really engrossing and powerful.
Profile Image for Kathrina.
508 reviews125 followers
February 10, 2016
Critical positions toward this book that I take issue with:

1. A part-white/part-anything else protagonist is a literary device to allow white readers permission to identify with the main character, thus garnering mainstream appeal.
This attitude debases the validity of a multiracial identity. It is especially insulting when the author himself holds this identity. If, for some reason, some white readers are more willing to identify, ok, but I'm suspect that all readers lack the capacity to read/identify outside their racial demographic. Why don't we question if Mexican-American readers will identify more easily? Are we assuming there is no such thing as a Mexican-American reader? Or if there are, they'll only read books about Mexican-Americans? Does it appear that the main concern of this argument is for white kids to read "multi-cultural" books, while Mexican-American kids should read Mexican-American books? White kids should be exposed to experiences lived outside of white privilege, while Mexican-American kids should have the advantage of recognizing themselves in literature? While I tend to agree with that particular sentiment to some degree, I also recognize that this is in contrast to my belief that readers are not incapable of identifying outside of race boundaries, and that doing so can be transformative. I've tied myself up in a knot; what do you think?

2. Rondell is a demoralizing stereotype.
From time to time I find myself in conversations with people who want to discuss the problems they see with the popular Netflix series Orange is the New Black. One frequent complaint is that, though they are happy to see black actors taking roles in a successful tv series, they are angry that, once again, these roles available to black people are as criminals and prisoners, prostitutes, murderers, and drug addicts. I get that. But it seems unfair to make that accusation when the subject of a tv show is a prison. For all of its faults in characterizing women's prison as some kind of sorority or summer camp with titillating lesbian sex and interpersonal drama (not to mention a white protagonist that introduces us -- a primarily white audience -- to this exotic environment (see above)), I'd have far more criticisms if all of the actors were white. The reality is there are far too many black people in American prisons, and, in fact, OITNB should probably have MORE black actors in it.

Rondell is black, Miguel is multiracial Mexican/white. They share a harrowing experience and become friends over the course of their journey. They don't tell each other their backstory. Rather, we learn Rondell's backstory as Miguel reads his juvi file he has stolen from the group home. We learn Miguel's backstory at the same time Rondell learns it, at the end of the narrative, after they are friends.
Rondell is described throughout the book as slow, illiterate, violent. One reviewer describes his characterization this way: "...who literally embodies almost every single negative stereotype associated with African Americans in our culture. Rondell is described as hulking, slow-witted, illiterate, sentimental, superstitious and prone to inexplicable bursts of violence. Oh but wait -- he does have some good qualities -- he is an AMAZING basketball player! And he is incredibly trusting and loyal." These descriptors of Rondell are all accurate. He is all of these things.

But then, as readers, we are privy to learning his backstory as Miguel reads his file. Rondell was born significantly premature, the child of a crack-addicted mom. He never knew his father. He was quickly tracked to special ed in school. He lived in multiple foster homes until he committed his first crime, and then lived the rest of his childhood in the juvenile system. He had poor schooling, poor family support, poor modeling. He was raised mostly by institutions. Sadly, tragically, this is the story of thousands of children. Many of them are black. Does this mean Rondell is a stereotype? Or does this mean he is the product of a prison industrial complex that replicates his story a million-fold? In no place does de la Pena ever characterize all black characters as slow or illiterate or violent. But it doesn't mean that Rondell can't genuinely be this way, and it doesn't mean its Rondell's fault, or the fault of his race. We can't allow literature to ignore the truth of an individual's experience, nor can we ignore the systemic oppression that impacts some populations more than others. Let's not oversimplify it by calling out the "stereotype" card.

Five stars for pushing me to think this through.

Profile Image for Julissa.
155 reviews39 followers
January 13, 2015
Yo, this book it is really a journey man.

A journey to acceptance and self-recognition.

I really love Matt de la Peña's writting style. I discover him in My True Love Gave to Me: Twelve Holiday Stories and I'm glad I pursued him... and will read more of him.

I don't know if it is because I am latina just like Miguel but I felt pretty connected to him, loved his voice and thoughts.

This book is about people who do bad stuff. About guilt. About self-punishment, bitterness. About losing hope, and faith in yourself and the world. About hitting rock-bottom. Getting lost.

And of course finding your way back. Accept things and letting them go...

I really love this topic, and coming of age stories, the losing and finding yourself ones... But this one is quite special, with an unique voice and different story that the ones I'm accustomed. It is slow, but you get swallowed up pretty fast and in the end you really care for the characters, even the secondary ones. And I really liked that to me it was a surprised what Miguel did, sometimes though the story I really wanted to know, but at the same time I easily forgot I didn't know because I was so into the what was happening to him at the moment... I guess you could say I had the same reaction as Rondo man.

And I really loved that he was writing, I think that writing is such a good way of coping with whatever happens in your life, although he always made very clear he wasn't writing about no feelings and girls shit like that... jajaja it was really great. And emotional.

It's also about family, friendship. About Latin-culture. I really liked how de la Peña did this. I mean, Miguel is not mexican, he is american and his family from his dad part are mexicans but he didn't feel mexican, but he wasn't completely like every other american kid either. Deep stuff, feeling like not-belonging anywhere.

Like Rondo, would said: Wha'chu mean?

I mean... I just really enjoyed this. :)

"...as corny as it may be: I want to be a wobbly people pole that tries to bring joy into the world, not one that takes joy from it."

Profile Image for Phoenix Rises.
Author 23 books18 followers
July 4, 2016
This is a terrific book. It took me a while to finish it because I was reading so many other books, but I found that I would come back to this book at the right times, and could not get away from it (not that I wanted to). This book resonated with me deeply. In the end, I find this book to be both compelling and touching. It made me cry. The book is about taking responsibility for your actions, but also about learning how to forgive yourself. Miguel is a highly relatable character to me, as he eventually comes to the conclusion that to be a writer, one must be like Alice Walker who wrote The Color Purple and just write it all down, no matter how hard and painful it is, and make that connection with others via writing. I find that to be a beautiful theme that was well encapsulated by this book. The book itself has many modern influences, such as Catcher in the Rye and Of Mice and Men (books referenced in the text as Miguel's reading material), books that tell necessarily heartbreaking stories but with a huge degree of sensitivity and heart. I find myself drawn to this book because of how well it told this story, of how the book makes you feel like you need to read this story. Miguel himself is a fascinating character that doesn't shy away from telling the truth, but paradoxically, clearly struggles through the entire book to come to terms with his past and express himself fully: Such is the plight of the writer, it would seem, to be bold and honest but also sensitive to one's own feelings, past, heritage, and destiny. I highly recommend this book. It is a book of honesty and hope that is much needed in our culture, a raw and unflinching coming of age tale.
Profile Image for Abby.
601 reviews80 followers
August 6, 2009
Reviewed for work, but this review reflects my personal, not professional opinion, of this book. We Were Here is the journal of Miguel Castenada, who has been sent to live in a group home for something terrible that he did -- something so terrible he can't even think about it, let alone talk about what happened with anyone else. (Of course, any reader who has read a few "troubled teen" books will be able to pretty much figure out what happened after reading less than 30 pages of this book). At the home he meets Mong, a scrawny Chinese teen who may or may not be psychotic, who manages to convince Miguel, along with Rondell, a developmentally disabled black teen whom Miguel first met in juvie, to run away with him to Mexico. The three take off, heading down the California coast on a journey that takes more than one unexpected turn and leads Miguel to places he never thought he'd travel.

I had VERY mixed feelings while reading this book. Miguel is a great character with an extremely compelling voice. If there is one reason to read this book, it is for Miguel's thoughts and observations of the world he lives in and experiences on his journeys with Mong & Rondell. Unfortunately, not all of de le Pena's characters are as fully realized as Miguel. I was deeply troubled by the author's characterization of Rondell -- who literally embodies almost every single negative stereotype associated with African Americans in our culture. Rondell is described as hulking, slow-witted, illiterate, sentimental, superstitious and prone to inexplicable bursts of violence. Oh but wait -- he does have some good qualities -- he is an AMAZING basketball player! And he is incredibly trusting and loyal. I think de la Pena does strive to make Rondell a sympathetic and likeable character, for whom Miguel grows to feel real respect and affection by the end of the book. But the fact that he is likeable doesn't outweigh the fact that his character is first defined and continues to be characterized by these negative traits that have a particularly racialized and very fraught history. By the middle of the book, I felt like I was reading a modern day version of Huck Finn, with Rondell reprising the role of Jim, Miguel as a hybrid of Huck/Tom Sawyer, and the setting moved from the banks of the Mississippi to the beaches of California.

Beyond that issue, which pretty much colored my feelings about the entire book, I found some of the later plot developments rather unbelievable and hokey. Despite these reservations, I will probably recommend this book to some teens -- see my professional review for more on that.
Profile Image for Sarah Donovan.
Author 6 books80 followers
May 10, 2016
For upper middle and high school readers, especially boys. It's about regret, accidents, forgiveness, friendship, acceptance, remembering, resilience. The story is the journey of three boys who escaped a group home but find their own path into the past to heal. I was a little put off by De La Pena's treatment/characterization of the black character, but I loved the bromance that developed among the three teen characters.
2 reviews
March 23, 2016
I think this was an awesome book. The details really made me interested in reading more and more. I always wanted to read this book. It was about a boy named Miguel who got sent to Juvy for doing a "really bad thing" which tore his family apart and made his mother hate him. Eventually his mother sent him to a group home for "rehab" and to think about what he did. At that group home he met some people for who he spent most of his time with there before he snuck out. Something else I really enjoyed about this book was that it was intense because it didn't tell you what he did until the end of the story which made me personally very excited. I would recommend this book to people who like mysterious stories because trying to figure out for yourself what "bad thing" he did was fun.
Profile Image for Kim Tomsic.
Author 6 books57 followers
July 26, 2011
In author Matt de la Peña's young adult book, WE WERE HERE, three troubled teens believe their crimes and the cost of their damage leave them with nothing left to lose. The boys, Miguel, Rondell and Mong, begin their relationship with spit and fists flying. But somehow this group of teens form an unlikely team and escape their group home to make a daring dash to Mexico. Along their journey of pain, humor, rejection, adventure, love and brutality they find friendship as well as some redeeming value in life.

WE WERE HERE is packed with crazy violence combined with deep and often bizarre conversations and circumstances. It reminded me of a YA version of the movie Pulp Fiction, both disturbing and hilarious. I laughed, I cried, I Googled the author. I had to know more. This book had such a hold on me after I read the last page that I was reluctant to open my next novel because I knew that would mean the experience I just invested my heart in with Miguel, Rondell, and Mong would fade.

Here's what I learned. WE WERE HERE won the following awards:

*A Junior Library Guild Selection
*ALA/YALSA Best Book for Young Adults*ALA/YALSA Quick Pick for Reluctant Readers
*2011/2012 Texas TAYSHAS Reading List
Interview with Matt de la Pena regarding WE WERE HERE on blog at www.kimscritiquingcorner.blogspot.com
Profile Image for bjneary.
2,335 reviews81 followers
February 4, 2014
A great pick for our Februrary book discussion this month with my librarian friends! I just loved Matt's other book, Mexican White Boy Mexican WhiteBoy and We Were Here is just as compelling. Miguel is in juvi for a crime he doesn't reveal but he is totally guilt ridden about. He gets into an argument with Mong, an Asian with a severely scarred face, many other problems and health issues---scary, scary kid. When Rondell arrives; Miguel already knows him there is more of a flow to his daily life. Miguel reads lots of books, records in his journal (judge's orders) hangs out with(and makes fun of)Rondell. It is when Mong breaks them out to escape to Mexico and get jobs, that life totally changes for the three escapees. Miguel acts hardcore but he is hiding a lot behind his Mexican bravado. As they travel (and hide) to Mexico, there will be life lessons Miguel (and Mong and Rondell) work through as they come to terms with themselves, family, and their place in the world. A riveting, adventure with Miguel and friends. Reluctant readers (and teens who enjoy urban fiction) will relate to all three characters and their dilemmas.
1 review1 follower
February 21, 2019
This book is both gripping and disturbing in a way. It reveals the characters and details about them slowly, but this just makes you want to read the book even more, and see what happens. Matt de la Peña is a tremendous author, and I am still learning about his writing style. He likes to hide details about characters in small or unimportant moments. The story is an exciting journey, and you need to pay attention to some moments, or even big moments can hide some important little things that can help you analyze or understand the story or its characters. This novel is very sad, but the author still manages to slip in quite a bit of humor, and he talks about serious problems in a lighter way. Overall this book is completely worth your time, and the ending will definitely make you feel differently about the characters and maybe even the world around you.
5 reviews
February 21, 2019
This book is amazing!!!! I read this book in class, it has a really good plot, and mixed with Matt de la Peña's writing techniques, it makes for an incredible book. I love how it's slow paced and fast paced at once. I'm not going to spoil anything, but Matt de la Peña does a really good job at revealing the characters at s certain pace.
Profile Image for Sarah.
447 reviews3 followers
November 7, 2020
Soo good! Great story about friendship, hardships, heartaches and loss. Your heart breaks for all three characters as they try to find their way in a world that has essentially turned their back on them and left them to a broken system.
Profile Image for Jazmyne.
136 reviews7 followers
May 26, 2016
SO here's my updated review on this book.

just as a heads-up, the format of this book is a journal that the main character, Miguel, has to write in for his court-ordered rehabilitation. He is supposed to write in it during his time in a group home.

Let's get started with the characters. Oh my God, the characters. I loved reading this book because I felt like I was Miguel. The way de la Peña wrote for Miguel makes it actually feel like you're reading Miguel's writing. I love that this was pieced together as his journal for the group home. It wasn't just journal entries either; Miguel has little snippets throughout his journal, like "Ways to Escape your Mind in a Group Home". This tiny portions strewn into the journal entries give greater context into his situation, who Miguel is, and so on.

Additionally, each of the characters has great depth. Miguel is figuring out his biracial identity; his father and his family from Mexico, his mother is a white woman. He feel disconnected from his grandfather, who speaks no English, but he also doesn't pass for white. On top of that, he's figuring out who he is, his family after what he's done, and he's struggling with forgiving himself. He's in such a mess, and he feels real when you read his entries. Furthermore, Mong and Rondell are incredible. There are a few moments in the book where I definitely cried - I'm a pretty easy crier, though, so that's something to consider. I don't want to spoil too much about these two characters because, honestly, their stories are my favorite (I love Rondell - with two l's). But believe me, they're heartbreaking, realistic, moving, everything.

There isn't much that I found wrong with the book. The only thing that irked me was it seemed like everything was a bit rushed at the end of the story, but a lot of strings seemed left untied. It would have been really cool to see a little more interaction - or even reflection - on Miguel's mom, or maybe some growth from Jaden (he was always too bro-ish for me, even toward the end of the book...but I think that's the point of his character?). The minor issues toward the end are the only reasons why I can't give the book a 5/5, but believe me, this book is definitely a 4.5/5. It's the minute details, yes, but it makes a difference!

Overall, PLEASE read this book. It's a very moving read, the characters are so vivid and real, and the story is just incredible. I don't want to give too much away, so again...just read this book :)
Profile Image for Laura.
1,838 reviews27 followers
March 22, 2017
I got this book at a conference for teachers I attended last summer (NTCTELA). It was the second time I'd heard the author, Matt de la Pena, speak. I love his back story!

And I loved this story. I really felt for Miguel even though I figured out his deep dark secret entirely too early in the story. It's a great coming-of-age story, especially appealing to the urban gang-banger wannabe.

I'm just not sure if putting it on the "Mature" shelf of my classroom is going to be enough. The cussing was deplorable but I can overlook it for the lure of the story on my reluctant readers. I'm really more worried that parents may complain about the below the waistline action. (I'm really hoping that my students are less experienced than Miguel.)

I'm going to check with the school librarian before I put it out in the classroom. If it's not appropriate for students in middle school, I'll have to pass it on to some high school student.
Profile Image for Guadalupe Ramirez.
22 reviews1 follower
May 10, 2015
I wasn't expecting to like this book much because at first the characters seemed so stereotypical. I heard the "Mexican" in Miguel's voice, and the "Black" in Rondell. On and off throughout the book, I wondered what a Black student might think reading it- the over the top religious simpleton might be offensive.

Apart from that, I enjoyed the story of three troubled teens discovering themselves as they break away from a group home. I was moved by the scene where Miguel discovers their files, reads their history (family, academic, criminal) and then gets rid of them.

It was a nice depiction of how some kids might just need a new start... and a painful reminder that most do not get to erase the pain of their past.

I think students might enjoy this book, but I would discuss stereotypes and have them discuss why they thought the author relied on them so heavily.
232 reviews2 followers
June 4, 2017
Likeable mixed-up kids think they need to start over, but really they need to connect with someone, grieve, and then hold onto life. Very moving, very cool how de la Pena weaves in the books Miguel is reading: Of Mice & Men, The Color Purple, Catcher in the Rye, The House on Mango Street. De la Pena totally gets the caught-in-the-middle aspect of being biracial, and makes us get it, too. A tough book with enough foul language and hopelessness to make me careful about recommending it--but Miguel is able to man up in the end, and hope is restored with reality.
Profile Image for The Dusty Jacket.
270 reviews36 followers
April 5, 2020
"I can sometimes make stuff happen just by thinking about it. I try not to do it too much because my head mostly gets stuck on bad stuff, but this time something good actually happened: the judge only gave me a year in a group home. Said I had to write in a journal so some counselor could try to figure out how I think. Dude didn’t know I was probably gonna write a book anyways. Or that it’s hard as hell bein’ at home these days, after what happened. So when he gave out my sentence it was almost like he didn’t give me a sentence at all."

Miguel Castañeda had a plan for getting through his one-year sentence in a group home: write in his journal, keep to himself, pretend to call his mom every Sunday, and read every book on the home’s bookshelves. Just be a ghost—invisible and non-existent. That plan was changed when he was assigned to share his room with Rondell, a big black kid that was once his cellmate in Juvi. And then there was Mong, a skinny, tough, and silent Chinese dude with scars on his cheeks and a psycho smile. Suddenly a year seemed a whole lot longer. And then one night, Mong asked Miguel to escape with him to Mexico. Maybe a new start away from California is just what he needed. Maybe it’s the clean start he so wanted.

"We Were Here" was one of those books that I kept checking out and returning—always meaning to read it but getting distracted by something else. Shame on me for not giving de la Peña’s work the attention it deserved. "We Were Here" is gritty, raw, candid, bleak, and insightful. It’s also a stark reminder to never judge a book by its cover. The author introduces us to kids like Miguel, Mong, Rondell, and others who have found themselves on the wrong side of the law for one reason or another. Each has their own story and shows us how one wrong decision or personal tragedy can set off a series of events that ultimately lands them in a group home, juvenile detention, or jail. We get to meet these kids and understand that many are more than the sum of their parts and just need what Miguel so urgently desires—a second chance.

"We Were Here" is filled with heart, honesty, and hope. The characters are realistically portrayed and de la Peña avoids simply making them ethnic caricatures by giving them depth, warmth, a deep vulnerability, and an underlying desire to make honorable and decent choices. Narrated by Miguel through a series of personal journal entries, this story demonstrates just how far the bands of friendship can be stretched without breaking and the value of choosing loyalty over personal desire.

Matt de la Peña opened his book with an excerpt from Denis Johnson’s “From a Berkeley Notebook” and I thought it would be an appropriate way to close this review. It beautifully depicts Miguel’s personal transformation and how events in our own lives can make each of us strangers to ourselves: “One changes so much/ from moment to moment/ that when one hugs/ oneself against the chill/ air at the inception of spring, at night,/ knees drawn to chin,/ he finds himself in the arms/ of a total stranger,/ the arms of one he might move/ away from on the dark playground.”
Profile Image for Terry.
834 reviews35 followers
December 26, 2022
Matt de la Pena has become a strong author, with several solid titles to his catalogue. This earlier title - his third - didn't really work for me.

Miguel narrates the story as a series of court-mandated journal entries from the time he's placed in a group home called The Light House through time on the run away from it. Throughout, there are allusions and direct references to Of Mice and Men, The Catcher in the Rye, and other novels Miguel reads. He gets in fights, travels through California toward his goal of a new life in Mexico, and then follows Joseph Campbell's heroic journey home.

It didn't work for me for two reasons, neither of which are the considerable coincidences that readers must accept throughout. No, first, the pacing was off. The book could have trimmed 100 pages as Miguel and his companions move from beach to car to beach to bus to beach. This all felt like scene changing without reason, and rather than add plot beats it bogged down the story. Second, the big 'ah ha!' didn't land, and I'm left wondering just what it was that Miguel needed to get that he hadn't grasped before the journey.

Profile Image for C.E..
220 reviews7 followers
April 7, 2017
This review ain't really gonna do this book justice but I'll try. I had the pleasure of meeting the author recently at a community literacy event. He told the kids this was probably his favorite book he had written. Likewise most the kids said it was their favorite. Now I understand why. It's an odyssey story of sorts about three kids in a juvie group home who decide to break out and go to Mexico. Over time we find out why they were there along with who they really are. Miguel is the storyteller who also writes in his journal the whole way. He doesn't let us in until he end. Rondell (with 2 "ls") is my personal favorite. There's a bit of Lenny in him from Of Mice and Men even though he's an overgrown black kid with an innocent soul, small IQ and fierce need to protect Miguel whom he playfully calls "Mexico." The character you know least about is Mong. He's violent and a bit crazy but, come to find out, extremely intelligent and hiding quite a few serious things. I don't want to give much away about the plot but if you liked The Outsiders as a kid this one is gonna blow you away. I loved these boys and despite some choices they make I found myself cheering for them all the way. It's a great all ages tale of redemption, friendship, family and accountability.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
661 reviews
May 21, 2017
This is a sad book. Teen age Miguel has landed in a group home after spending some time in juvenile hall. He has a chip on his shoulder and the complete inability to admit to his crime - although the reader is always aware it has something to do with Miguel's older brother, Diego. Once at the group home, a kind of psycho kid, Mong, asks Miguel to break out of the home and take off to Mexico, where they will supposedly become fishermen. Miguel's room mate, a tall, illiterate black kid named Rondell, also comes along. Miguel steals about $700 petty cash and the boys take off. Originally, Mong's cousin says she'll drive them to Mexico; but really, she is trying to get Mong to go see his grandfather. So the boys take off on their own - convinced they can walk down the California coastline all of the way to Mexico. Many adventures ensue -- but, the back stories are brutal and sad. All three boys come from dysfunctional families that contain varying amounts of heartbreak. They become broke and homeless. Although they are outwardly falling apart, Miguel knows in his heart that he must do the time for his crime. These characters will remind you that some kids lead very fucked up lives and it is not usually their fault.
5 reviews1 follower
April 9, 2018
This is one of the best books I've ever read. I enjoyed every part of the story and felt there was never dull moment. I'm not sure what else to say about it. I just found the book amazing. I loved how Miguel developed his thoughts and ideas throughout the story with help from Mong and even Rondell. While reading I like try to predict what might happen next in a story. In this book was always surprised. I could never tell what would happen. Every plot twist caught me off guard and shocked me (cough cough Mong's death). Overall (if you cant already tell) I absolutely love this book.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
2 reviews
May 2, 2017
A young boy miguel who has a nice life does a bad thing in his life was perfect and everything else and one day something big happen in his life sohe got sent away from his brother and momma and he had to get his life together so he had to leave and he met friends when he left his mother house . soo then they got close and they was like a little family
One thing is that i didn’t like is he didn’t never go back to see his momma talk to her and then go back where he was at and how one main character never come backs in the story at all . that he should be in the story longer. Then he was . he actually made the book interest . somedays i just didn’t want to read it .
I would want people to read it if your going thru stuff in your life because it’s going to help you try to get over it . and have a better understand or just not to give up on life if you having trouble in life . Because it’s not going to lead you anywhere at all. But i think anybody could read this book . if you don’t read it you missing ou
Profile Image for Christine Fitzgerald.
537 reviews5 followers
February 3, 2018
This is at the top of my list for diverse books. There is nothing mainstream about this book yet the story and characters are totally relatable. Can’t wait to book talk this one on Monday!!!
Profile Image for Allison Church.
90 reviews1 follower
October 19, 2018
Not as powerful as the others I've read lately, but holds it's own. I wouldn't necessarily choose to pick this up again because some of the descriptions grossed me out a bit. But overall the story was an uplifting and hopeful one in the end.
5 reviews1 follower
May 29, 2015
Matt tells the story of a trouble making teenager named Miguel in the story We Were Here. Miguel is smart with a good heart, but he struggles to make the right decisions. After committing a crime, the Judge decides to send Miguel to a group home for a year. Miguel also has to write in a personal journal for a year so his counselor can try to understand what he is thinking. Little does the judge know, sending Miguel to a group home was doing him a favor. Miguel's mom couldn't even look him in the eyes and he felt awful. Will Miguel turn his life around and stop making decisions that could potentially ruin his life?

Matt De La Peña made Miguel an amazing character. I really got to learn about Miguels thoughts and observations of the world he lives in and experiences on his journeys with Mong and Rondell. I feel that I never got hooked onto reading this story. The author really pushed for the characters to see the true side of Miguel but it was hard after hearing all of the awful things he has done. Matt uses a lot of “slang” and I felt that he overused it. He obviously intended that for modern teenagers to understand and read but I thought it was very overused and got annoying. The author sent out many themes from this story. One of the main themes Matt sent out to the readers is, it’s never too late to change. He shows this because Miguel starts off the story as a convict but as the reader keeps moving on they surely realize the true side to him. Matt truly showed that anybody can make a change in their life no matter what they're going through.

Overall, I rated this book 3.5/5 stars on GoodReads. I enjoyed reading this book because Miguel and his friends are around the same age as me. While reading, I tried to imagine that I was in their shoes, living their lives, and I couldn't imagine it. I would recommend this book to a highschool student to adult who likes to read about disobedient children with hard a hard childhood. Personally, I would not recommend this book to a classmate of mine. I didn't think the story flowed well and I don't think a friend of mine would enjoy it.

2 reviews
June 2, 2013
When the event happened, nothing was the same for Miguel, the main character of We Were Here by Matt De La Peña. A judge put Miguel in a juvenile home after a terrible crime, and sentenced him to write his thoughts in a journal so the counselor could figure out how his mind worked. The judge didn’t know that he was doing Miguel a favor. After the horrible night, his relationship with his mother was changed forever, and she couldn’t even look him in the face. According to Miguel, anywhere but his house would’ve been better to live in. On his journey he met new friends along the way, and those friends pressured him to escape from the juvenile home. Miguel decided that he could start a new life in Mexico and forget everything that happened. Unfortunately, things didn’t work out the way Miguel planned them to be.
The ideas that the author was trying to convey to us are the main themes that many face in life. Matt wanted to prove when kids live in rough neighborhoods life sometimes doesn’t work out for them. Matt also wanted to show that many kids today face challenges, and feel like they’re on the run. The author’s style was another element that impressed me. With the surprise twist at the end of the novel of how Miguel first got into the Juvenile home, bits and pieces of flashbacks foreshadowed his crime which made the novel extremely exciting. I enjoyed the characters’ development in the novel, especially Miguel’s. Miguel’s personality developed after his long journey running away from cops to figuring how he was going to supply food for himself. My recommendation of this novel would be to the average American or to someone who is struggling in life. For the average American it shows how difficult someone’s life could be, and for someone who is struggling it shows them a spark of light that there is still hope for them to correct the mistakes that they have made. So if you’re looking for a page turner novel that has the average day, escaped, and juvenile teenager, then this novel is right up your alley.
63 reviews
February 10, 2011
"Your whole life, man, it can change in one minute." (p. 99)

No one knows this better than Miguel. One day he's living with his mom and brother, Diego, in their Stockton California home and the next he's in a group home with a bunch of stupid guys and a surfer dude counselor, Jaden, who keeps trying to talk to him about what happened. But Miguel can't talk about what happened. Not with Jaden; not with anyone. After getting in a fight with the skinny, bald dude named Mong, Miguel decides to steer clear of everyone in the house. He is completely and utterly alone.

When he awakes one night to find Mong standing over his bed, Miguel is surprised by Mong's request. He wants Miguel to run away with him to Mexico. At first Miguel is hesitant, but he soon realizes he has nothing to live for anymore, and therefore nothing to lose. Miguel's roommate, Rondell, joins their motley crew of fugitives.

"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." (p. 119)

What follows is a compelling, at times existential, story about 3 boys struggling to deal with the lots they've been dealt. Even though Miguel, Mong and Rondell are considered criminals, the circumstances they've had to face are more difficult than most people would deal with in a lifetime. It was difficult for me to get into the book at first, but as time went on, I found myself drawn in deeper and deeper into Miguel's world. He is a complex character (though I found his voice inconsistent at times) who has done a horrible thing but is not a horrible person-although he doesn't figure this out until the end of the book. We Were Here is about mistakes, consequences, and, ultimately, forgiveness.
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