The guest blogging continues! Today Dr. Jones’ student Casey takes the stage …
Hi readers! My name is Casey; I am an English teacher in the RCSD and am working on my Masters degree in literacy at Nazareth College. I love to read! My favorite genres are realistic fiction, historical fiction, and magical realism. Though I love reading now, when I was in middle and high school, I did not. I think it’s because my teachers never gave me books to read that interested me or related to what I was going through. If one of my teachers handed me Matt De La Pena’s “We Were Here” and engaged me in it, it just may have inspired my love for reading much sooner.
Matt De La Pena’s “We Were Here” falls into the realistic fiction genre, that being one of the reasons I chose to read it, the other being that I seek out books by Latino authors (Latino literature is written by individuals who were born in the US, but are of Hispanic descent). I find I am continually drawn Latino literature because of a common theme that weaves through the stories. It is a theme of searching for or connecting to an inner self, and often having to forge many identities into one. De La Pena did not let me down! “We Were Here” definitely deals with an inner struggle of identity and a search for personal meaning.
The book is narrated by the main character Miguel’s journal entries; it is his voice that carries us along through the book. While writing in his journal, which he was ordered to do by the court, Miguel describes his recent past: a tough and gritty, impoverished but sunny, and often happy life in Stockton, California. Nostalgic memories of his mother “moms” and older brother “Diego” inhabit this life in Stockton, but we quickly realize Miguel is not in Stockton anymore, and the happy times with his “moms” and Diego are long gone.
Miguel is in “juvi” and being sent to a group home for boys with criminal pasts because of something he did, something so bad he will not even write it in his journal for us to know. What he does tell us in his journal is how alone he feels. How he remembers the way his mom wouldn’t even look at him or speak to him, even to say goodbye as she left him on the front stoop of the group home, his new home for a while.
Miguel tells it how it is. He is not too happy to be at the group home and he demonstrates it through his writing and his actions. His first fight occurs not even a day into his stay at the group home. His journal entries are filled with honest and heart sinking insights into how much he really believes that life has given up on him, and how he is not sure he even cares at all that it has. He decides that one night when he wakes to see the kid he fought standing above him just watching him. At first he feels fear, but then he calms and realizes when you feel like you aren’t even alive anymore, when you feel like an empty shell nothing can hurt you anymore, and that is how he feels. The thing is the whole time that we are getting to know Miguel we know he is smart! He reads voraciously while at the group home: Walker Hurston, Salinger, and others. His mind works and works exploring existential questions of existence like what is the point of all of this? Of living? Of life? Demonstrating that as much as he wants to believe he is giving up, he can’t. He is too smart.
Though Miguel does isolate himself from the others in the home, he is approached by Mong, the fearless and chillingly detached Chinese kid Miguel fought on his first day, and asked to escape the home. I think Mong chooses him because he sees the same detached apathetic attitude that he himself has. The duo quickly turns into a trio when they are joined by Miguel’s roommate Rondell: an illiterate, deeply religious, phenomenal basketball player, who can go from calm to a violent fighting rage at the drop of a hat. Mexico is their destination, where they hope a future awaits them: a chance to start over.
As they embark on a journey down the California coast Miguel begins to learn about who he is and who is “friends” are. Though walking for miles and miles each day, the journey contains a poetic quality. This occurs because the coast is always there. The ocean waves beat steadily against the shore day and night, and each evening the sun sets on the horizon. The endless shore and the ocean waves and the beauty of it all that assists Miguel in pondering the significance of it all: his crime, his life, death, and why bad things happen.
This book truly takes you places as you read it. It makes you furious, it makes you question your own life and circumstance, it makes tears stream down your face, and most of all, it makes you want to read it again!
Wow, Casey. What a great review! “We Were Here” is one of the Matt’s books that I haven’t read yet, but I definitely want to read it now!