From the publisher:
A poignant novel of desperation, escape, and survival across the U.S.-Mexico border, inspired by current events.
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. 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.
* “A brutally honest, not-to-be-missed narrative…gripping, heart-wrenching, and thrilling.” —Kirkus Reviews, STARRED REVIEW
* “A candid, realistic story that will leave readers thinking about the characters–and about our own world–long after the last page.” —SLJ, STARRED REVIEW
* “Gripping, poignant…this soul-shaking narrative [recalls] the works of Gabriel García Márquez.” —Booklist, STARRED REVIEW
* “A devastating read that is difficult to put down, this unforgettable book unflinchingly illuminates the experiences of those leaving their homes to seek safety in the United States.” —Publishers Weekly, STARRED REVIEW
A Pura Belpré 2021 Young Adult Author Honor Book
A BookPage Best Book of 2020
A Chicago Public Library Best of the Best of 2020
A School Library Journal Best Book of 2020
A New York Public Library 2020 Top 10 Best Book for Teens
I selected this book for discussion during Hispanic Heritage Month and had a discussion with 37 college freshmen. It was enlightening, to say the least.
Pulgra is 16 years old and living in a small town in Guatemala with his single mother and his best friend, Chico, who is a few years younger, after Chico’s parents were killed. Pulgra’s father left for America to pursue his music career, and Pulgra would love to follow in his footsteps. He studies the routes people have taken to get to America, saving maps and any information he can find.
One day, Pulgra & Chico stop by the local bodega, where the owner, an old man, told them he would give them each a soda if they would help him stock the shelves. While they were working in the back, Rey, the local drug king pin, and his henchmen came in and kill the old man. Terrified, Pulgra & Chico waited in the back until they felt they could leave without being seen.
Rey had taken over this small town, terrorizing all the residents who came in contact with him, including the police. He sexually assaults Pequeña, a 17-year-old, and she ends up pregnant, scared to death of Rey, and afraid to tell her mother who the father is. She tries suicide, but ultimately lives and the book opens with her giving birth to a baby she does not want. Meanwhile, Rey keeps coming by and tells her he wants to marry her and gives her a diamond ring. Too terrified to say no, and sure he will kill her eventually, she turns to her friend Pulgra.
It turns out Rey’s spies did see Pulgra and Chico leaving the bodega, and now he is forcing the boys to work for him, and they don’t know what to do. When Pequeña approaches the boys about leaving and heading to the United States, they all decide it is the only way out. They know it is a very dangerous route, but they feel as though they have no choice – the danger they will leave behind will only get worse, if not deadly, if they stay.
The book follows their journey, from a middle-of-the-night bus ride out of Guatemala through Mexico to riding Le Bestia, the train that will take them to America – if they survive. They cannot buy tickets; instead, they have to hop on and off the train to avoid border checks. There are shelters along the way – some are wonderful, others are dangerous. Pequeña disguises herself as a boy, cutting off her hair, and has left her baby behind. None of them told their mothers that they were leaving.
It is a long, arduous journey that alternates between heartbreaking and horrifying. Arriving at the U.S. border is no picnic either, and the author pulls no punches about how asylum-seeking immigrants are treated, even children. The author’s inspiration was taken mostly from the news, but also her own family. While she was born in America, her mother was from Guatemala and they visited often, so the house and town where the boys live are based on her aunt’s house in that same town.
This was a very difficult read due to the power of the story, but it was also compelling and impossible to put down. If you have any interest in the reality of why people risk their lives to come here, or how they get here, beyond the politics and the sound bites, this is a good way to find out. I can’t imagine anyone reading this book and not walking away more empathetic to immigrants. I couldn’t help but get angry, too, about the U.S. immigration policies and lack of compassion in this country.
A few of the students in the book discussion with me were from other countries; South Africa, Trinidad, and a couple from Venezuela. They shared some of their experiences in their countries, and it was enlightening while at the same time, so sad. The young woman from Trinidad said that kidnappings are a daily occurrence there, and kidnappers tend to drive white Jeeps, so when she sees a white Jeep here, she panics. She realizes it is not the same here, but some things just become ingrained.
I am not much of a TikTok viewer, but I was curious about this book, as it is a Young Adult book that is a tear-jerker, the best-loved fodder on “Book Tok”. Sure enough, there are many videos of young women raving about this book and crying – this was my favorite.
10/2022 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch
WE ARE NOT FROM HERE by Jenny Torres Sanchez. Viking Books for Young Readers (May 18, 2021). ISBN: 978-1984812285. 368p.