Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Guest Blog Post: We Were Here by Matt de la Pena

I know Miguel Castaῆeda. He went to my high school. I know Rondell Law. He’s been my student. Mong…well, he tends to be inconspicuous, but you’ve seen him around. Actually, you’ve known all of them at some point in your life. We never knew their stories, cause they never really talked about them, but we know them now. They’re the subject of Matt de la Peῆa’s book, We Were Here. In the form of a journal, Miguel narrates the layered stories these three young men share. The three first meet at a group home in central California where they will complete their sentences…at least in theory. Not a month into his time, Miguel takes Mong up on his offer to escape, and Rondell tags along. The three head for Mexico, largely on foot, and dramatics ensue. While still at the group home, The Lighthouse, Miguel had decided to take up reading, and, in preparation for his journey, swipes a handful of novels from the home library, as well as his, Rondell’s, and Mong’s official files. As the story unfolds, stories unfold for Miguel, too . He takes us through The Color Purple, Of Mice and Men, and The Catcher in the Rye. He identifies with various aspects of character or plot, engaging the reader in these auxiliary texts, we well. We also learn Mong's and Rondell's stories, both familial and judicial, and fall in love with each one. Eventually, as the reader earns his trust, Miguel tells us his story, which he tip-toes around for most of the book. Though they don’t end up in Mexico, all three boys meet with success, as does de la Pena in his novel. He kept me reading for some 300 pages, and even encouraged me to give The Catcher in the Rye another shot. --Julia Weber

Guest blogger Julia Weber is an English teacher at Passages Academy's Boys Town site.

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