We Are Not From Here
Jenny Torres Sanchez, Author
Philomel Books, Fiction, May 19, 2020
Suitable for ages: 14-17
Awards: A Pura Belpré 2021 Young Adult Author Honor Book and a School Library Journal Best Book of 2020
Themes: Child Refugees, Immigration, Guatemala, Journey, Courage, Hope, Resilience
Book Jacket Synopsis:
Pulga has his dreams. Chico has his grief. Pequeña has her pride.
And these three teens have one another. But none of them have illusions about the town they’ve grown up in and the dangers that surround them growing up in Puerto Barrios. Even with the love of family, threats lurk around every corner. And when those threats become all too real, the trio knows they have no choice but to run: from their country, from their families, from their beloved home.
Crossing from Guatemala through Mexico, they follow the route of La Bestia, the perilous train system that might deliver them to a better life–if they are lucky enough to survive the journey. With nothing but the bags on their backs and desperation drumming through their hearts, Pulga, Chico, and Pequeña know there is no turning back, despite the unknown that awaits them. And the darkness that seems to follow wherever they go.
In this striking portrait of lives torn apart, the plight of migrants at the U.S. southern border is brought to light through poignant, vivid storytelling. An epic journey of danger, resilience, heartache, and hope.
Why I like this book:
Jenny Torres Sanchez challenges readers beyond their comfort zone. Her powerful novel is timely and relevant today. It is about two brothers and a female cousin fleeing from dangerous drug trafficking gangs in Guatemala and making the treacherous journey north to the United States. There are no guarantees that they will survive. Their story is heartbreaking, but it underscores the problem of why many Central American children illegally immigrate to America alone.
This is a character driven story. There are three main characters but the story is told from the alternating viewpoints of Pulga (15) and Pequeña (17). Pulga is sensitive and cares deeply about people and doing what’s right. His father was a musician in California and he wants to be a musician. He watches out for his younger brother Chico (13), who lost his mother in a gang shooting. But for years, Pulga has been researching, gathering maps, supplies, money and everything he and Chico need to run. Pequeña is their cousin. She’s quiet and secretive, but resilient in her own way. She is pregnant but wants no involvement when the baby is born because his father, Rey, is a top gang member in the Barrios. He raped her and wants to own her. When Pulga and Chico observe Rey’s gang murder a beloved community grocer, they know that Rey and his gang will come for them — kill them or force them to join the gang. It’s time to leave for the United States where Pulga has an uncle.
Make sure you read the Prologue as it really puts the choices made by desperate youth into razor sharp focus. Especially when the UN reports that there are more than 10 million refugees world-wide. “When you live in a place like this, you’re always planning your escape. Even when you don’t know when you’ll go. Even when you are looking out your kitchen window, looking for a reason to stay.” No matter how many wonderful memories these young people have of home and family, they are surrounded by danger. The government is corrupt and turns its head.
The plot is multilayered, gripping and complicated. The trip is long and hazardous, which Sanchez handles with care. The threesome dodge gangs, bandits, and immigration officers. Food and water is scarce. The heat is suffocating. They rest at safe houses, recover from injuries, lice and exhaustion. They learn survival techniques and how to hop the notorious freight train (La Bestia) and ride on top the cars as they travel north through Mexico to the border. Their final challenge will be to find the right smuggler (coyote) who will help them safely cross the desert at night.
The richly textured Latino text is peppered with Spanish words and expressions, which contribute to the reader’s experience. At the end of book there are Discussion Questions to use in the classroom. This is an important book for high school classrooms/libraries to help students gain a better understanding of refugees, immigration and the reasons they risk their lives for a better life. This book is listed as a Teacher’s Pick.
Jenny Torres Sanchez is a full time writer and former English teacher. She was born in Brooklyn, New York, but has lived on the border of two worlds her whole life. She is the author of We Are Not From Here; The Fall of Innocence; Because of the Sun; Death, Dickinson, and the Demented Life of Frenchie Garcia; and The Downside of Being Charlie. She lives in Orlando with her husband and children. Visit Sanchez at her website and follow her on Twitter @jetchez and on Instagram @jennytsanchez.
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*Reviewed from a purchased copy.