BAYA Book Review

We Are Not From Here by Jenny Torres Sanchez

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Torres Sanchez, Jenny. We Are Not From Here. Philomel Books, 2020. 348p. ISBN:9781984812261. $18.99. HS, OT *****

Pulga, Chico and Pequeña all have reasons to love – and to leave – their hometown in Guatemala. Their families are there; their community; their culture, their friendships. Yet there is also violence and loss and so much sadness, all of this bad balanced by the good. Until the danger became personal and the three flee north toward the United States. As they run north on La Bestia (the train that runs across Mexico carrying migrants that cling to the top), they face more and different threats, protected only by what little knowledge they gathered before setting out, the uncertain kindness of strangers, and each other. It is not an easy journey, and there is no reason to expect they all (or any of them) will make it safely to the United States. They are pursued by their enemies back home, vulnerable to bandits along the road, and of course, susceptible to physical and emotional damage from the harshness of the journey itself. They are fueled by desperation and the tiniest bit of hope that they feed to each other along the way. Just kids themselves, they grow up fast on this journey, but it is uncertain who they will be at the end of it.  

This is a high intensity, unrestrained, migration story centering three teens on their own against high odds on the journey of their lives. The setting is an authentically harsh one and the book tackles contemporary issues of violence, and border politics in a way that is more emotional than intellectual. It is an adrenaline read steeped in the context of true-to-life tragedies and injustice. It is perfect for activists, thrill-seekers, and compassionate readers of friendship stories. There is almost nothing pleasant or upbeat about the book, but the love and loyalty of these three in the face of such challenges stops it short of total bleakness. There is real violence (physical and sexual) in the story and sophisticated discussions of international politics, corruption, gangs and drugs, so may be better suited to high school readers. Still all of this is told in a style that makes it accessible,  if not actually comfortable. 

-Andrea Mullarkey, Berkeley Public Library

Tags: Adventure, Diverse, People of color, Realistic

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