aka YA Literature

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

We Were Here by Matt De La Pena

Teens Miguel, Rondell (two L's), and Mong sneak out of the group home they've been court-assigned to. They steal $750 from the home and make their way to Mexico where they plan to become fishermen. The novel is mostly an account of their journey (literal and emotional). Mong has had a really hard life and is a bit crazy. Rondell is a kind of Lenny figure--he has his heart in the right place but is intellectually slow, physically large, and not completely in control of his substantial physicality. Miguel is the main character: half Mexican, half white, feeling guilty about what he did to end up in juvi, smart, a burgeoning reader, and struggling with his conscience.

I really liked it. I liked the friendship that develops between the three guys, particularly between Miguel and Rondell. I think what I liked most of all is that this novel is written in first-person and Miguel has a strong, engaging, and authentic voice. It was also very existential. Miguel tries to come to terms with what the point of his continued existence and actions are, especially since he has already stepped over the proverbial line of "bad" and "wrong" (not to mention illegal) and now can't ever really go back again. Once he has done x, what does it matter if he does y (or z or f or q...)?

"Nothing matters. Not when you break it all down like I been doing in my head all tonight. Trust me. Nothing. Not me. Not you. Not the guy in the liquor store with the bat. Not the Bible. Not the pretty girls. Not being the watcher-over of this park. Not The Catcher in the Rye. Not this damn book I'm writing.

Nothing, man.
It's all meaningless.

Love that part. The exisistential themes made me really appreciate the title as well. When I first heard the title, I didn't think much of it. To be honest, I thought it was kind of boring, especially compared to Mexican Whiteboy.* However, while it might not be the attention-grabber that MW is, it is a really great and fitting title. By the end of the book, I thought it is not only appropriate but it underscores the significance of the book, of what Miguel discovers. It's a title that you get more from at the end, and not just because you read the line that it came from in the text.

The one thing that was a little distracting for me is the journal format of the book. There are no chapters, just dated sections. This is fine except that most of it is written in past tense (as if it's a retelling of the story), but occasionally Miguel slips into present-tense, as if he's writing in his journal in real-time. As long as I thought of it all as a retelling, it was fine. One of my students who is reading this right now actually told me the journal style is what he really likes about it. He said he likes how you get a sense of how long things take and that you are "going along" with the characters.

I like the cover on this book better than BDL and MW. They were very artistic but not very attractive for teens.

* More on this in my next post.


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