We Were Here by Matt De La Pena - I loved Pena's last novel Mexican White Boy and I was really looking forward to reading We Were Here. Miguel has done something that landed him in juvie. The judge sentences Miguel to a year at a group home and mandatory journal writing. The group home Miguel is assigned to known as the Lighthouse and is run by Jaden, a laid back surfer type. I liked Jaden, he tried hard and seemed to really care. There six other guys staying at the group home. When Miguel meets everyone he gets into a fight with Mong. Mong is a skinny Chinese kid everyone avoids. Mong would happily fight to kill. After that incident Miguel keeps to himself. He doesn't have a roommate and spends his time reading the few books in the library. A few weeks after Miguel arrival at the Lighthouse, he gets a roommate, Rondell. Rondell is Black, slow and big. Miguel found out Rondell was illiterate when the two shared a cell at juvie.
"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 going to 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 a grown man. And I'd just written some pretty bad stuff about him in my journal. 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. After a couple minutes like that Rondell staring at the page I'd been writing and me pinned to the nasty cement floor - 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"(from arc)
Rondell called Miguel, Mexico at juvie and he contiunes to do so at Lighthouse. Miguel, Mong and Rondell are not friends though they end up running away from the group home together. Pena did a good job of bringing the three together. It didn't seem strange at all that Miguel would hit the road with a boy who spit in his face or one who had his shoe on his neck.
Before leaving, Miguel takes the petty cash and their case files. Mong says he knows someone in Mexico. The three head there to start over. There isn't much conversation, the three are strangers and did just escape from a group home after all. Yet somehow there is a sort of ease with which the three relate at times. I enjoyed the quiet moments like when they were ate in a comfortable silence. One of my favorite scenes in the book is when Miguel and Mong, have there first real conversation. Mong is always ready and looking to fight. Miguel knows to keep his guard up for crazed Mong. With that conversation the reader is allowed to see another side of Mong and better understand his willingness to fight.
I kept waiting to see more of Rondell but didn't. Rondell was too one dimensional for my liking. He was a big, illiterate who pretended to read the bible. He thought the bible would keep him from losing his temper. Rondell has the strength to beat someone to death, and he lacks the ability to stop. I didn't mind that Rondell was slow or that he couldn't read, what bothered me was the fact that the author never expended on this character, like he did with Miguel and Mong. The only other thing we learn about Rondell is that he excels at basketball. When the three play in a pick up game, Rondell takes over the court. One night Miguel sneaks away from the others and reads their files. After hearing Mong's history I begin to understand him better. Hearing Rondell's history left me frustrated. When I realized Rondell being a natural basketball player was the only extra we were going to get on this character, I was not happy. I didn't care for how dependent Rondell was on Miguel. At no point in this journey was Rondell his own man. Even on the court, instead of taking the game winning shot, Rondell passes it to Miguel. Rondell kept me from enjoying We Were Here as much as I would've liked. but I did like it.
I thought the author did a great job with Miguel's voice. Even on the run, Miguel continues to write in his journal. Miguel writes about everything from his life at home with his mother and brother to running away with Mong and Rondell.