Top positive review
An Incredible Story - You will LOVE We Were Here
Reviewed in the United States on May 14, 2012
`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.' ~ Matt de la Peña, We Were Here
This is one of the best young adult books I have ever read. Scratch that. This is one of the best books I have ever read.
At the onset of We Were Here, we get acquainted with Miguel, the narrator of the story as he is transferred from juvi to a halfway house. Miguel has a mindset that he has absolutely nothing to lose, and that he will never again have anything to gain. We are aware that he has done a bad thing--a terrible thing--but we are not quite sure what it is. We only know that he never wants to forget the burden of his guilt...that he wants to carry it with him forever and feel the extreme pain of his suffering.
This is the story of three troubled teens. Miguel, Rondell and Mong are a very unlikely trio. Miguel's first encounter with the other two boys are violent. There is spitting and punching and a painful pinning to the ground. All of these things make the reader think Rondell and Mong will both soon be left in the dust of the story. But they would be wrong. The three eventually devise a plan to escape the halfway house together and make a run for freedom in Mexico.
Once they are out in the wilds of California, and heading for the ocean so they can travel south to Mexico, the story really takes off! Along the way, the reader is treated to a wealth of self-reflection from Miguel's ongoing journal writing. We discover that he is a compassionate, thoughtful and intelligent young man. And we get to find out the back-stories of each of his traveling companions as Miguel sets off one night by himself to read the boys' files, which he stole while preparing to leave the halfway house behind him.
It is also Miguel who allows the reader to see the good in the other two boys. Rondell, we are quick to learn, is not a bad kid...but a simple one. He believes in Jesus Christ and puts all his faith into a bible he cannot read but carries around with him all the same. Mong, who appears to be a psychotic hopelessly lost soul, turns out to be an overwhelmingly sad case. Nobody should endure the heartache and soul-breaking that Mong has been through in his young life. When he declares Miguel his best friend, it will baffle both Miguel and the reader...but it is such a pivotal moment in the story. Heartrending.
I love when authors namedrop books. I always have. In We Were Here, Miguel has a penchant for reading. Throughout the course of the story, he spends time with Salinger's Catcher in the Rye and Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men. The reader cannot help but see Miguel as a modern day Holden, and Rondell as a modern day Lennie. At one point I found myself thinking, `Oh please, please, please...mention Camus's The Stranger. You have to!' And sure enough, the name was eventually dropped. Miguel's second travel companion, Mong, is without a doubt Camus's Meursault! This book is an homage to all three of these wonderful stories, but it is also SO much more than that. It is a story that, in itself, will definitely become a classic.
The potential reader of We Were Here will just have to take my word for it when I say this is one of the best books I have ever read. I don't want to give away too much of it here. I can only say that it unfolds with a beauty I have not seen in a while. The reader will grow so close to these three boys, they will want to protect them from both themselves and the world around them as they set out on the journey of their lives. The journey they take makes men of boys, and makes each of them realize the wealth they carry inside. Your heart will break and strengthen and break again as you take every step alongside Miguel and his broken friends. And when you hope beyond hope that they do the right thing, they might even hear you.
This was a beautiful story. Be prepared to feel all of the emotions you carry...and some you didn't know you had. I will be re-reading this every now and again...it's one of those books you want to hug close to you when you're finished.