Elizabeth B's Reviews > We Were Here

We Were Here by Matt de la Pena
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's review
Aug 10, 2010

really liked it

Before I start, let me clarify the low rating so as to not to deter any potential readers: This book is nominated for an Arkansas Teen Award and I was reading it specifically for this reason. The story itself is a remarkable one – a bit of the Outsiders mixed with every on the road saga I’ve ever read. Miguel is a strong lead character that jumps off the page not for his criminal acts or his redemption but more for the way in which he looks at the world around him. Rather than descriptions of himself, what is most poignant about him is the way in which he views the world around him. His relationship with Mong is so combative at the start and later (after Mong’s revelation) he doesn’t’ really apologize for his original feelings about Mong but instead, adjusts his life view without apology. I think this is what appealed to me most about his character. It was Rondell (two LL’s!) that I loved the most. I know he was what most would consider a sideline or comic character but it was Rondell that I grew to love. Rondell never changed throughout the story which provided a great way to measure the changes seen in Miguel. Rondell was slow, loyal and loveable even knowing he was in a group home for criminals. It made it easy to side with him and hope that (no matter what occurred to anyone else) I rooted for him to come out on top. Mong, I liked least but only because I think Mong deserves a book entirely of his own. His decisions regarding crime, escape, and his final decision of the book (and the reason behind that decision) are explored only so far as they relate to Miguel (as they should since its Miguel’s story) but I felt that Mong was the character whom I really wanted to read more about. It was through his eyes that I would have liked to seen this story written. I think Mong has a much bigger, much more life impacting story to tell than Miguel did.

This is undoubtedly a 4 star book. It has the elements that everyone looks for in teen literature and encompasses every ethnic group imaginable so they no one will feel left out. It has the coming of age, gritty feel of teen classics from the 70’s and 80’s that I miss in current releases. It’s true writing as opposed to the formula fiction I see so much of nowadays.

So…why didn’t I rate it higher? Because I live in Arkansas. Because I’m reviewing it specifically for a teen book award. This book deserves to be on the ALA best list and win whatever other awards at the National level it is eligible for. Unfortunately, this is not a book that is really befitting of an Arkansas book award. The composition of the book, the gritty nature of it, the setting, and the characters themselves are not relatable to the majority of Arkansas teens. It’s only in this regard, and no other, with which I could find fault in this book.

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