Sometimes I am amazed at how long it takes me to figure something out. I have actually had two books by De La Pena sitting on my TBR pile for a while, and then happened to pick up We Were Here by De La Pena at the library, never once realizing that his work is something I have had sitting right by me for a long time, but haven't made time to read.
What intrigued me about this book is the Hispanic character, Miguel. I have a large Hispanic population in my school and am always on the lookout for a book with a character they can relate to and looks like them. While this book is definitely YA and not one for my elementary students, I did appreciate the perspective this book provides, and am happy to see that my boys will have De La Pena's work to look forward to in middle and high school.
Miguel is being sent to a group home after he did something to get in trouble. One of the first things he is given is a journal to keep track of his thoughts and feelings, something he is told to do as a part of his treatment. While in the group home, Miguel meets up with Rondell, a physically large African American teenager who is mentally not very smart, and Mong, a Chinese American, who is angry at everyone and everything.
Over time the three get to know each other, and then break out of the group home. Their time alone bonds them together, and Miguel finds out a little more about each boy's background. After learning their sad stories, Miguel is able to see how much better his life is by comparison, and can hardly fathom living through the sadness that his new friends have endured. While that does put a few things in perspective for Miguel, the even that put him in the group home is one that he still cannot share with his friends, and something he cannot forgive himself for.
I liked the suspense that De La Pena creates by only sharing why Miguel is in trouble at the very end. Rondell, Miguel and Mong are three very unlikely friends, but because of circumstances are thrown together. Their friendship is interesting because of their differences, but it is also an example of true friendship as they are able to express their loyalty and respect for each other at different times.
Another aspect I enjoyed was that Miguel was a reader. Throughout the book there are references to different books Miguel is reading, something one might not expect from his character. This entire book is written as though it were Miguel's journal and while reading I felt as though I could relate to him. Yet, whenever he is confronted, his anger and the way he reacts to things are far from anything I could understand. While I think this could have backfired and made Miguel somewhat of an unbelievable character, I never felt like his reaction was out of line to who he was. Instead, it just was yet another aspect of Miguel's personality.
I think this book will definitely appeal to my male readers as they enter middle school and high school and that they will find many things about these young men to relate to.