We Are Not From Here by Jenny Torres Sanchez
Publisher: Philomel Books (Penguin Teen)
Release Date: May 19, 2020
Available Through The Book Depository: We Are Not From Here
Cover Illustration: Hazylle Cadungog
Summary: Pulga, Chico, and Pequeña have no false illusions about the town they’ve grown up in and the dangers that surround them. Though their families–both biological and found–create a warm community for them, threats lurk around every corner. And when those threats become all too real, the three teens know they have no choice but to run: for the border, for the hope of freedom, and for their very lives.
Crossing from Guatemala through Mexico with their eyes on the U.S. border, they follow the route of La Bestia, a system of trains that promise the hope of freedom–if they are lucky enough to survive the harrowing journey. With nothing but the bags on their backs and the desperation that courses through their very veins, Pulga, Chico, and Pequeña know that there’s no turning back, dangerous though the road ahead might be.
My Rating: ★★★★☆
My Thoughts: We Are Not From Here is a must-read for 2020! Pulga, Chico, and Pequeña embark on perilous journey to the U.S./Mexico border. Told through an emotionally-gripping, poetic and character-driven narrative, Sanchez delivers a tale all too real that will stay with you long after the final page!
I’ll admit, it was when I finally reached the end of We Are Not From Here where I realized, moving and impactful books such as this one are incredibly difficult for me to review. How does one put into words how powerful a story is, especially when it reflects a reality for so many reaching the United States?
If you take away one thing from this review, aside from reading this novel it’s that this journey is happening every single day and this book while fictional, it details the truth for many seeking opportunity when journeying to the US (alongside the hardships that continue when they arrive).
Pulga, Chico, and Pequeña have lived in Puerto Barrios and have known each other practically their whole lives. However, they are aware of the possible dangers they can face when their paths cross with certain people in their community, like gang leader Rey.
Seventeen-year-old Pequeña at the start of the novel is having a child she doesn’t want and we soon learn it’s the child of Rey. While she has the support of her community (such as her mother and tias), when she learns of Rey’s proposal to marriage and starting a new life elsewhere, she realizes she’s trapped and there is no other option but to run.
The murder of local store owner Don Felicio spurs Pulga and Chico (both 15) into running as well when Rey coerces them into joining his group.
Pulga, carrying his walkman, that links to memories of his father, and years of information on how to reach the U.S. by riding a real life network of trains known as La Bestia, motivates Chico and Pequeña into understanding that that’s the only way they can start new.
The journey they undergo is brutal, not without hardship, it even changes their perception on their personal hopes, dreams, and visions of the future they seek. It’s an emotionally and physically enduring journey not only on the trains, but also as they cross, the thoughts of fear and uncertainty run through their mind as they take each step.
From the dangers of not securing themselves on the trains, to being robbed, running out of food/water, etc. Pulga, Chico, and Pequeña are met with struggles along the way, but also moments of kindness. It’s from fellow passengers, even shelter owners and members of local churches who provide them support along their journey. The power of kindness, compassion, and much more are beautifully highlighted into darkest moments of this novel.
Told through dual POV’s from Pulga and Pequeña, there’s just so much life, soul and history woven into our main cast that make them incredibly real. Sanchez’s writing is especially poetic and through Pequeña’s perspective, there’s even hints of magical realism that illustrate her want to escape the darkest and unhappiest of situations.
Their friendship, family dynamic and just reading about the deep connection they share with each other on this journey was just another one of the many highlights of the story.
Pulga is very much someone who is aware of the dangers the journey can bring and carries this evolving nature of solitude, mentioning its best that the 3 of them just focus on themselves. It brings moments of pain for each of them and seeing this evolve over the course of the story was painful to read.
While Chico is more of the hesitant one of the group, never letting go of the deep emotional parts of himself as he reminds Pulga of the connection and similar feelings other migrants such as themselves are surely facing too. Pulga, Chico, and Pequeña are the stars of this novel and its in their depth and core as characters that bring so much emotion, intensity, and so much more to this book.
This novel broke my heart in many ways, especially nearing the end, but underlying is such a prevalent theme of hope. The hope of dreams, the act of hoping itself, carries a lot of power that is not forgotten with each chapter. The storytelling is gripping and packed with so much emotion.
While this novel in no way reflects my family’s personal immigration story, it still connected to me in such a deep way as the main characters (and my family) are Guatemalan also. Novels such as We Are Not From Here highlight a truth which is that there’s numerous countries in Latin America with people immigrating to the United States, but its often only generalized to a few countries. That’s another vital part of what makes this novel so impactful.
This novel also reminded of a non-fiction book I read for one of my classes not too long ago called Enrique’s Journey. Its definitely a journalistic piece written more into a prose style, but a lot of what happens in that novel, alongside facts/figures are subtly woven into Sanchez’s novel as well.
The plot while mainly following their journey among each train and heading north, changes them little by little and your heart can’t help but hurt. However, at each turn they do their best to keep going. Its also a story as much internal as it is external.
While my 4 star rating is more reflected at how much this book got to me on such a deep level and the pain I felt while reading, its very much a YA book that deserves all the hype and recognition (its a 5-star reading experience). While I won’t spoil what happens at the end, it really hits you emotionally (after I finished I was just left so speechless).
We Are Not From Here is an unforgettable, powerful YA Contemporary that follows 3 Guatemalan teens on their journey to reach the U.S. Sanchez’s prose is moving and captivating! This is novel is masterfully crafted, emotional, and gripping story make this a must-read for 2020!
🌿✨ Have you read We Are Not From Here? Are you planning on reading this novel? 🌿✨