We Were Here

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Overview

When it happened, Miguel was sent to Juvi. The judge gave him a year in a group home—said he had to write in a journal so some counselor could try to figure out how he thinks. The judge had no idea that he actually did Miguel a favor. Ever since it happened, his mom can’t even look at him in the face. Any home besides his would be a better place to live.
    But Miguel didn’t bet on meeting Rondell or Mong or on any of what happened after they broke out. He only ...

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Overview

When it happened, Miguel was sent to Juvi. The judge gave him a year in a group home—said he had to write in a journal so some counselor could try to figure out how he thinks. The judge had no idea that he actually did Miguel a favor. Ever since it happened, his mom can’t even look at him in the face. Any home besides his would be a better place to live.
    But Miguel didn’t bet on meeting Rondell or Mong or on any of what happened after they broke out. He only thought about Mexico and getting to the border to where he could start over. Forget his mom. Forget his brother. Forget himself.
    Life usually doesn’ t work out how you think it will, though. And most of the time, running away is the quickest path right back to what you’re running from.
   From the streets of Stockton to the beaches of Venice, all the way to the Mexican border, We Were Here follows a journey of self-discovery by a boy who is trying to forgive himself in an unforgiving world.

An ALA-YALSA Best Book for Young Readers
An ALA-YALSA Quick Pick for Reluctant Readers
A Junior Library Guild Selection

"Fast, funny, smart, and heartbreaking...The contemporary survival adventure will keep readers hooked."-Booklist

"A story of friendship that will appeal to teens and will engage the most reluctant readers."-Kirkus Reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
When Miguel, a high school student from Stockton, Calif.—“where every other person you meet has missing teeth or is leaning against a liquor store wall begging for change to buy beer”—commits an undisclosed crime, he is sentenced to a year in juvenile hall. Despite the efforts of his counselor (who constantly calls him “bro”), a despondent Miguel suffers alone at the group home, reading and scribbling in his journal; his entries provide the novel's narrative. When Mong, a violent fellow resident, plans an escape to Mexico, Miguel and his roommate, Rondell, join him on a tumultuous journey through Southern California and slowly become friends, as Miguel struggles to come to terms with the events that have brought him to this point (“Nah, man, there ain't no such thing as peace no more. That shit's dead and buried”). Miguel's raw yet reflective journal entries give Peña's (Mexican WhiteBoy) coming-of-age story an immersive authenticity and forceful voice. The suspense surrounding the boys' survival and the mystery of Miguel's crime result in a furiously paced and gripping novel. Ages 14–up. (Oct.)
VOYA - Rollie Welch
De la Pena again creates an authentic story about teens existing on the lower fringes of society and the issues they confront. Miguel Castaneda narrates his story in journal format, beginning with his first hours in a juvenile home called Lighthouse. Readers are not given insight into Miguel's crime until much later in the story, but early on, they learn that it involves his older brother Diego. Details of the incarcerated teens' tension and anger is described with gritty realism. Miguel's bunkmate is huge and mighty Rondell, a developmentally slow but physically powerful sixteen-year-old African American teen who looks like a grown man. A fight with Mong, a Chinese teen who seems to care about nothing, happens on the morning of Miguel's first full day. But Mong respects Miguel's no-fear attitude. The three boys hatch a plan to bust out and head to Mexico. Miguel, Rondell, and Mong converse in clipped sentences punctuated by slang, insults, and profanity. De la Pena's ability to write in the voice of at-risk teens is clearly the novel's strength. Away from Lighthouse, the three guys run into various people, some good, others bad, bringing to mind another literary journey, Huck Finn's Mississippi voyage. Yet each teen carries a deeply emotional burden. One character's solution to his pain results in a drastic decision threatening their shaky friendship. Reluctant readers may be turned off by the work's length, but this gripping story about underprivileged teens is a rewarding read. Reviewer: Rollie Welch
School Library Journal
Gr 9 Up—Miguel struggles to forgive himself for a tragic event that changed his life and his family forever. He willingly accepts his one-year sentence to a juvenile detention center and the requirement that he keep a journal. De La Peña uses the conceit of the journal to tell the story in Miguel's words. At the center, Miguel befriends Rondell, a mentally challenged teen prone to violent outbursts, and Mong, a troubled boy with myriad physical and emotional problems. Mong organizes an escape, and with little apparent thought, Miguel and Rondell agree to join him. The boys' convoluted travels take them up and down the California coast and are recorded in Miguel's journal, along with his personal journey of self-discovery. It is frustrating that the salient event, the one that led to Miguel's incarceration, is kept from readers, and most other characters, until the end of the book. Once the truth of what happened is exposed, it is difficult to comprehend the callousness shown to Miguel by other family members; in fact, readers may question why he was imprisoned at all. The premise of juvenile delinquents on the run, camping out, and trying to survive and to find themselves will appeal to teens, but the story is just too drawn out to hold the interest of most of them.—Patricia N. McClune, Conestoga Valley High School, Lancaster, PA
Kirkus Reviews
The emotional diary of a teenager, Miguel Casta-eda, sentenced to one year in a group home and to keep a journal. Miguel always dreamed of writing a book, so, haunted by the tragic events that changed his family forever at his apartment in a poor neighborhood in Stockton, Calif., he immerses himself in the production of this diary. Using slang language, the soft-spoken Miguel becomes "Mexico" as he speaks out about the depressing atmosphere of his new "home," the Lighthouse, and the relationships he develops with two juvenile delinquents, Rondell and Mong, who share the house with him. Miguel's diary recollects their adventurous journey running away along the California coast heading south to Mexico, the beauty and the grief of their homeless days and nights, his encounter with "Flaca," a Mexican girl he falls for but who betrays him, and the moment that he stands at the border of Mexico and tries to answer his unresolved questions about his own cultural identity as a mixed-race teen. A story of friendship that will appeal to teens and will engage the most reluctant readers. (Fiction. YA)
Children's Literature - Michele C. Hughes
Keeping a court-ordered journal, Miguel records his journey through the juvenile criminal justice system for a crime he refuses to forgive himself for or even think about. He begins in a juvenile detention center surrounded by intimidating characters, including Rondell, an unintelligent boy who quickly asserts his might over Miguel. It comes as somewhat of a relief to Miguel when he is sentenced to a group home, where his peers seem more benign, all except violent and unpredictable Mong, with his odd cheek scars and his crazy eyes. Miguel is surprised and anxious to be reunited with Rondell in the group home, where they find an unexpected equilibrium. After asserting himself as aloof, independent, and brave, Miguel gains Mong's acceptance, and together they escape to Mexico, joined by Rondell. With a wad of money and their case files stolen from their well-meaning counselor, they slowly make their way down the California coast toward Mexico. At the Mexican border, Miguel grapples with a decision about whether he can accept the possibility of his redemption. These teens do not just talk differently, they think differently, evidenced by Miguel's journaling about crying, sex, and power. Their journey is not for the faint-hearted—it offers a glimpse into the psyche and circumstances of teens who might otherwise be defined by their case files. The plot offers several unforeseen turns, which accentuate the differences between the reader's choices and the boys'. The language reflects Miguel's cultural slang. Over the course of the book, Miguel's growth seems entirely plausible, as he aims for a better version of himself rather than a Boy Scout, and that is what makes him both sympathetic and real. Reviewer: Michele C. Hughes
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780385906227
  • Publisher: Random House Children's Books
  • Publication date: 10/13/2009
  • Format: Library Binding
  • Pages: 368
  • Age range: 14 - 17 Years
  • Product dimensions: 5.70 (w) x 8.40 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author

  We Were Here is Matt de la Peña’s third novel. He attended the University of the Pacific on a basketball scholarship and went on to earn a Master of Fine Arts in creative writing at San Diego State University. He lives in Brooklyn, New York, where he teaches creative writing. Look for Matt's other books, Ball Don’t Lie, Mexican WhiteBoy, I Will Save You, and The Living, for which he received the Pura Belpré Author Honor Award, all available from Delacorte Press. You can also visit him at mattdelapena.com and follow @mattdelapena on Twitter.

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Read an Excerpt

May 13

Here’s the thing: I was probably gonna write a book when I got older anyways. About what it’s like growing up on the levee in Stockton, where every other person you meet has missing teeth or is leaning against a liquor store wall begging for change to buy beer. Or maybe it’d be about my dad dying in the stupid war and how at the funeral they gave my mom some cheap medal and a folded flag and shot a bunch of rifles at the clouds. Or maybe the book would just be something about me and my brother, Diego. How we hang mostly by ourselves, pulling corroded-looking fish out of the murky levee water and throwing them back. How sometimes when Moms falls asleep in front of the TV we’ll sneak out of the apartment and walk around the neighborhood, looking into other people’s windows, watching them sleep.

That’s the weirdest thing, by the way. That every person you come across lays down in a bed, under the covers, and closes their eyes at night. Cops, teachers, parents, hot girls, pro ballers, everybody. For some reason it makes people seem so much less real when I look at them.

Anyways, at first I was worried standing there next to the hunchback old man they gave me for a lawyer, both of us waiting for the judge to make his verdict. I thought maybe they’d put me away for a grip of years because of what I did. But then I thought real hard about it. I squinted my eyes and concentrated with my whole mind. That’s something you don’t know about me. I can sometimes make stuff happen just by thinking about it. I try not to do it too much because my head mostly gets stuck on bad stuff, but this time something good actually happened: the judge only gave me a year in a group home. Said I had to write in a journal so some counselor could try to figure out how I think. Dude didn’t know I was probably gonna write a book anyways. Or that it’s hard as hell bein’ at home these days, after what happened. So when he gave out my sentence it was almost like he didn’t give me a sentence at all.

I told my moms the same thing when we were walking out of the courtroom together. I said, “Yo, Ma, this isn’t so bad, right? I thought those people would lock me up and throw away the key.”

She didn’t say anything back, though. Didn’t look at me either. Matter of fact, she didn’t look at me all the way up till the day she had to drive me to Juvenile Hall, drop me off at the gate, where two big beefy white guards were waiting to escort me into the building. And even then she just barely glanced at me for a split second. And we didn’t hug or anything. Her face seemed plain, like it would on any other day. I tried to look at her real good as we stood there. I knew I wasn’t gonna see her for a while. Her skin was so much whiter than mine and her eyes were big and blue. And she was wearing the fake diamond earrings she always wears that sparkle when the sun hits ’em at a certain angle. Her blond hair all pulled back in a ponytail.

For some reason it hit me hard right then—as one of the guards took me by the arm and started leading me away—how mad pretty my mom is. For real, man, it’s like someone’s picture you’d see in one of them magazines laying around the dentist’s office. Or on a TV show. And she’s actually my moms.

I looked over my shoulder as they walked me through the gate, but she still wasn’t looking at me. It’s okay, though. I understood why.

It’s ’cause of what I did.

June 1

I’ll put it to you like this: I’m about ten times smarter than everyone in Juvi. For real. These guys are a bunch of straight-up dummies, man. Take this big black kid they put me in a cell with, Rondell. He can’t even read. I know ’cause three nights ago he stepped to me when I was writing in my journal. He said: “Yo, Mexico, wha’chu writin’ ’bout in there?”

“Whatever I wanna write about,” I said without looking up. “How ’bout them apples, homey?”

He paused. “What you just said?”

I shook my head, told him: “And Mexico’s a pretty stupid thing to call me, by the way, considering I’ve never even been to Mexico.”

His ass stood there a quick sec, thinking about what I’d just said to him—or at least trying. Then he bum-rushed me. Shoved me right off my chair and onto the ground, pressed his giant grass-stained shoe down on my neck. He said: “Don’t you never talk like that to Rondell again. You hear? Nobody talk to Rondell like that.”

I tried to nod, but he had my neck pinned, so I couldn’t really move my head. Couldn’t make a sound either. Or breathe too good.

He swiped my journal off the table and stared at the page I was writing, his kick weighing down on my neck. And I’m not gonna lie, man, I got a little spooked. Rondell’s a freak for a sixteen-year-old: six foot something with huge-ass arms and legs and a face that already looks like he’s a grown man. And I’d just written some pretty bad stuff about him in my journal. Called him a retarded ape who smelled like when a rat dies in the wall of your apartment. But at the same time I almost wanted Rondell to push down harder with his shoe. Almost wanted him to crush my neck, break my windpipe, end my stupid-ass journal right then and there. I started imagining the shoe pushing all the way through, rubber hitting cement. Them telling my moms what happened as she stood with the phone cupped to her ear in the kitchen, crying but at the same time looking sort of relieved, too.

After a couple minutes like that—Rondell staring at the page I’d been writing and me pinned to the nasty cement floor of our cell—he tossed the journal back on the table and took his foot off my neck.

And that’s how I knew he couldn’t read. Dude was staring right at the sentences I’d just written about him, right? And he didn’t do nothin’. Just hopped up on his bunk, linked his fingers behind his head and stared at the paint-chipped ceiling.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 25 )
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 25 Customer Reviews
  • Posted May 18, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Reviewed by Melanie Foust for TeensReadToo.com

    After what he's done, Miguel is sentenced to a year in a group home, as well as an assignment to write in a journal in order to allow the counselors to have a look into his mind. Miguel sees being sent away from his home as a good thing. His mother can't even look at him anymore.

    After a short time in juvi, he's sent to a group home, and there he meets Mong, a teen who no one messes with. After a few weeks, Rondell, a guy who was Miguel's roommate during juvi, moves in. Rondell can't read, but he won't admit it.

    Time passes, then Mong invites Miguel to break out and head to Mexico for a new life. Rondell asks to come along. They break out together. An Asian, half-Mexican, and African-American teen head out to Mexico, and the journey will change Miguel forever.

    Although WE WERE HERE takes a while to get into, the story is important and powerful. All three teens must deal with the inner demons that haunt them, and they do so in drastically different ways. Miguel's viewpoint is gritty and real. He doesn't gloss over unpleasant details. Once you're drawn into this novel, though, its characters and their actions are memorable ones that won't be quickly forgotten.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 11, 2010

    Excellent Book

    I loved this book. This book is written in something close to journal form, with Miguel having to fill in a journal as part of his court mandated punishment for the crime he comitted. We don't find out the exact nature of his crime until the end of the book, which I really liked, because it allowed me to really get to know Miguel without having a preconcieved notion about him related to his crime.


    Miguel is a great character. He find himself a criminal, one who's actions, albiet accidental, have left him an outcast from his family and in a group home for troubled boys. Even there he doesn't fit in. He just reads books, and tries to keep to himself and finish his time. When Mong, a fellow group homer who Miguel has a negative relationship to asks him to break out with him, Miguel agrees, taking his roommate Rondell with him. The trio, each vastly different from eachother, form an unlikely bond as they try to make it down the coast to Mexico.


    Throughout their trip they encounter alot of obstacles. How to get food, how to deal with people prejudices and even how to deal with death. By the time they reach Mexico, they realize that it may not be the right path and have to decide what is the best course.


    I really liked this book because it didn't shy away from some really tough issues. It had damaged characters, one with a serious illness, one suffering from the long term effects of his mothers drug use, and one trying to come to grips with a horrific accident. This book never asks us to pity them though, it simply shows us who they are as they try to navigate a world in which they don't quite fit in. I thought every character was well written and in the end I was really proud of the progress they made and the way they turned out. Overall, great book.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 11, 2014

    I was almost in that situation

    I took some money from a store a couple of times with weapons and got caught pulling gun but was tackled before i did i spent a long time in a group home so i just want to say its so not realistic to escape theres a gaurd around you everyminute. It seems like this book to me is encouraging doing stupid things and going to group homes. Take it from an experianced survivor its nothing to be proud of its not fun it ruins your chance for a job and it kills you everytime you think about it. You have to be a fool to think it would be an amazing time like they describe the first part when they rais money for a trip thats such bull its not even funny. Pluss the escaping scene is completely immature. You cant escape theres camaras 24-7 gaurds with rifles shotguns pistols and tazers and tranq guns. Tall barbed wire fences and dogs so if you think you can get past that they even have 20 foot walls surounding the whole prison and homes. Imposible a friend an i planned but never took action i was there for 7 years. Its not cool im 22 now and got out when i was19. How fun do you think its been. I work as a mechanic my girlfriend took my son i cant go to school i live in my grandfathers basement. My life changed forever because i was stupid and thought i needed to do it. Life isnt like movies and books. Books and movies try and sugar coat things but if you do this in real life the world will chew yiu up and spit you out like a flavorless piece of gum. This book was refered to me by my counselor yea thanks im so going to listen to her again. She said i could relate to the main character bull why because this is a load of crap. Btw my name is Jess.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 29, 2013

    We Were Here

    We Were Here is a really deppreising book. Not that it's bad but the topics in this book can be touchey for a lot of peaple. For example just so you are pepared they talk about siucide and discuss topics like homlessness, and shooting peaple. This book made me cry. It was astonishing. It takes plave in a modern day teen's jurnail beacuse when the main charictar (Megiul) was sent to juvi the judge asked him to keep a jurnal so the conseler could see what he was thinking at the group hime he resides. When he goes to juvi in the very beiging he meets who seems to be stupid in the beiging. (You'll see!) Which becomes kinda like meguil's 'Brother from another mother', Rondell.(not in the beiging, you'll see yet agian!) . Soon he leveas and goes to the group home and leveas Rondell as well and meets Mong, A crazy teen who watches rap videos alone on the TV all day. Then councifentally, Rondell shows up at the 'lighthouse' (the group home Meguil and Mong are in.) Together they diside to sneak out in the middle of night to make there way to mexico. A MUST READ

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  • Posted December 8, 2013

            ¿We Were Here¿ by Matt de la Pena was a very good book.

            “We Were Here” by Matt de la Pena was a very good book. It is the second one that I have read written by him, the first was “Ball Don’t Lie”. This book is my favorite out of the two. In this book, the main character Miguel is a very idolizing teen. He faces troubles and hardships that a lot of teens go through today. He was not the kid who marveled in the riches and had designer clothes, he was the kid who had it tough and did not always think about the consequences of his actions. As I read most of the book a saying would come into my mind, “They’re not a bad person, they have just made bad choices.” That really relates to this book because he had made a bad choice and it ended in a lot of trouble, hurting him and his family.

             Miguel had been caught stealing a bike and the judge gave him a sentence, to pay for the crime he had committed. He was sent to a group home where other boys had been for their own reasons and sentences. Having this happen, had changed him. “Man, I started to feel really bad about myself and where I was in life or something.” (de la Pena, pg. 43) Miguel knew that if he kept making these choices, it would never get better. He realized how many things he had taken for granted, like the way his mother would listen to music with him at night. Not only did he feel bad about taking things for granted, but he felt bad knowing that he had broken his mother’s heart and feels that guilt every day. He always has the feeling in him that no one wants him anymore, no one cares. As he was there, the biggest decision of his life came along. Leaving for Mexico.

             I liked this book because it is very realistic and easy for many teens to relate to, even some adults. The main character goes through having to make hard choices and decisions for himself, all with living with the consequence of one mistake. He started off not caring about what happened to him, but then realized what he was actually doing to himself and others. Aside from the emotional relations, there are many teens who are living similar lives as Miguel today. Matt de la Pena is a great author who makes modern teen stories that can actually be related to and happen all the time. Not the usual, nerdy girl gets the popular guy material, and I thank him for that. I would recommend this book to teens between the ages of 14-17 because there is some mature language but it would be easier for children between these ages to understand the theme of the book. 

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 19, 2013

    Great

    Great book. I had to read this for summer reading and I have to say this is the only book i've enjoyed.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 27, 2013

    Man, this is amazing.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 13, 2012

    Very real

    I thought this was a great book. Left me in tears. I was not disappointed

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 28, 2011

    Amazing!

    This book is amazing. I really felt like i was reading te diary of an escaped group-home teenager. Really felt what the felt and got pulled in to the book bevause i couldn't wait for what was next

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 4, 2011

    well what can i say?

    just another regular biok

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 22, 2010

    An Amazing Book...

    I recently finished this book, this summer and it was GREAT! Miguel tells his story in a way thats so raw and truthful you can't help but feel like you're on the journey with him! It has a small similarity to "Small Steps" by: Louis Sachar. It's exciting, thrilling, and will have a reader deep into the storyline. You become emotionally attached to the charactes because they're realistic and it's like you're apart of the story! You'll cheer on Miguel, Mong, and Rondell as they discover themselves, come to copes with their future, and realize what they mean to eachother.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 29, 2010

    An Eye-opener

    This book is a great read for teens. As a 15 year old boy, I absolutly enjoyed this book. It really shows you how tough life can be, but keeps fun and exciting throughout. It was one of the few books where i actually laughed out loud, and also thought about it long afterwards. A great read that plays on many emotions.

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