Summary: We Were Here by Matt De La Pena gives us the story of troubled youth, Miguel. Miguel commits a horrific crime at the start of the novel, and is sentenced to one year of being a group home and to keep a journal. It is through this journal that we see events unfold in his life. After a rough start, Miguel, and two other of his inmates, Mong and Rondell, escape. They commit a few more crimes along the way and also begin to learn about each other. They then realize that the only path to safety is to get to Mexico, but this plan does not succeed. In the end, Miguel goes back to his family to try to make things right.
Strengths: This novel falls into the category of realistic fiction. The character of Miguel is a protagonist with real life problems. And not to mention real life consequences! At the beginning of the story, Miguel commits a heinous crime. He goes through actual consequences for a person his age. Sure, the whole “keeping a journal” thing may have been a bit of a stretch in a realistic scenario, but it works with this story and its message. Matt de la Pena himself has a Hispanic background and he uses that knowledge to create characters we can all relate to and avoids lots of stereotypes of Hispanics. A lot of readers out there may not be able to relate to the story of Miguel being a runaway criminal, but what does make this book succeed is the fact that we are still rooting for Miguel and fell empathy for him.
Connections to Text: It’s obvious through the text that Miguel has not had an easy life. With that difficult life, comes a rough developmental stage. When we see Havighurts developmental stages, we notice that Miguel has had difficulties with “learning to get along with peers,” and “developing morals and values.” The book does end with Miguel going back to his family and returning the money he stole, so hopefully this will pave the way to further development.