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.
Praise for We Are Not From Here:
"With poignant, exhausting lyricism and heart wrenching poetic prose, Jenny Torres Sanchez digs deep and shows us the throbbing, aching corazón-the hopeful, unbreakable spirit of the embattled immigrant. A book for the starving, lost soul." -Guadalupe García McCall, Pura Belpré Award-winning author of Under the Mesquite
"An incredibly powerful, soul-searing YA. [I]mportant and necessary.... I could not put this book down." -Padma Venkatraman, award-winning author of The Bridge Home
"We Are Not From Here is one of the most relevant and needed young adult novels of the year, a must-read." -Jennifer Mathieu, critically acclaimed author of The Liars of Mariposa Island and Moxie
"An achingly beautifully story...masterfully told...Jenny Torres Sanchez is a true leader within young adult fiction." -Christina Diaz Gonzalez, award-winning author of The Red Umbrella
"We Are Not From Here is absolutely stunning. It's raw and real, gritty and gorgeously told. A story that's painfully relevant today, and told with such precision and beauty, you can feel it. It's breathtaking and left me absolutely breathless." -Lauren Gibaldi, author of This Tiny Perfect World
"We Are Not From Here is a book that will mark your heart. Jenny Torres Sanchez challenges us to feel, empathize and understand. A searing, necessary and ultimately beautiful book." -Alexandra Villasante, critically acclaimed author of The Grief Keeper
* "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
Jenny Torres Sanchez (www.jennytorressanchez.com) is a full-time writer and former English teacher. She was born in Brooklyn, New York, but has lived on the border of two worlds her whole life. She is the author of We Are Not From Here; The Fall of Innocence; Because of the Sun; Death, Dickinson, and the Demented Life of Frenchie Garcia; and The Downside of Being Charlie. She lives in Orlando, Florida, with her husband and children. Follow her on Twitter @jetchez and on Instagram @jennytsanchez.
*Starred Review* This gripping, poignant story, grounded in current events, is told from the alternating points of view of Pulga ("Flea") and his cousin Pequeña ("Little"), who, along with Pulga's brother, Chico, struggle with the daily violence and corruption in Guatemala. The trio often hear tales of escaping to America via La Bestia, an arduous journey that includes stowing away on a horrifying train to cross borders illegally. When the terror at home gets out of hand, Pulga, Pequeña, and Chico decide to flee but soon find that the trail ahead is "some kind of dark maze, some labyrinth or trap, that we might never find our way out of." This soul-shaking narrative feels as real as the list of historical references included in the back matter. Readers will question, like the trio, if there is any good left in the world, but through their hardships, they come to learn that family means more than blood, and that their hearts and aspirations are bigger than their nicknames imply. Melding the adventure with bouts of magical realism recalling the works of Gabriel García Márquez-and writing with respect and sympathy for the plight of these people-Sanchez takes readers on a frightening pursuit of the American dream, and whether or not the trio is successful, we must keep them company every difficult step of the way. Grades 9-12. Copyright 2020 Booklist Reviews.
Three Guatemalan teenagers flee their dangerous hometown. In this action-packed and beautifully rendered depiction of the refugee migrant experience, Sanchez tells the story of 15-year-old Pulga; his brother by choice, Chico; and his cousin PequeÃ±a, three teenagers from Puerto Barrios, Guatemala, who must sneak away from their town to survive. Pulga and Chico unfortunately happen to be at the wrong place at the wrong time when they witness the murder of Don Felicio, the convenience store owner who gives them Cokes in exchange for help. PequeÃ±a, who is 17 and a new mother, wants to escape Rey, the gang member who raped her and wants to force her into marriage—and who murdered Don Felicio. The chapters switch between the first-person perspectives of Pulga, who has the heart of an artist, and PequeÃ±a, who sees beyond her surroundings and escapes reality during stressful situations. Scared of a future controlled by Rey, the trio embark on the journey that will bring them to the United States. But first they must conquer La Best ia, the name given by migrants to the train that claims the limbs and lives of many who flee violence. Sanchez delivers a brutally honest, not-to-be-missed narrative enriched by linguistic and cultural nuances in which she gracefully describes the harrowing experiences the young people endure after making the choice to survive. A gripping, heart-wrenching, and thrilling tale of survival. (map, author's note, sources) (Fiction. 14-adult) Copyright Kirkus 2020 Kirkus/BPI Communications. All rights reserved.
When you live in a place like this, you&;re always planning your escape. Even if you don&;t know when you&;ll go. Even if you stare out your kitchen window, looking for reasons to stay&;you stare at the red Coca-Cola sign on the faded turquoise wall of Don Felicio&;s store that serves the coldest Coca-Colas you&;ve ever tasted. The gauzy orange of the earth&;both on the ground and swirling in the air&;that has seeped into every one of your happiest memories. The green palms of the tree you climbed one time to pick and crack the ripest coconut that held the sweetest water you gave your mother. And the deep blue of the sky you tell yourself is only this blue here.
You can look at all this and still be planning your escape.
Because you&;ve also seen how blood turns brown as it seeps into concrete. As it mixes with dirt and the excrements and innards of leaking dead bodies. You&;ve stared at those dark places with your friends on the way to school, the places people have died. The places they disappeared from. The places they reappeared one morning months later, sometimes alive, sometimes dead, but mostly in fragments. You&;ve watched dogs piss in those places. On those bodies that once cried with life.
You plan your escape because no matter how much color there is or how much color you make yourself see, you&;ve watched every beautiful thing disappear from here. Made murky by night and darkness and shadow.
You plan your escape because you&;ve seen your world turn black.
You plan your escape.
But you&;re never really ready to go.
We should run.
The words fill my mind as the priest throws holy water on Don Felicio&;s coffin. Neighbors slide it into its vault. Doña Agostina holds her rosary and wails.
Yesterday at his wake, she&;d told me to run. Yesterday, Pequeña had told us to run, too. Today, my eyes scan the cemetery, looking for Rey or Nestor, and all I can think about is running.
The crowd disperses.
When we get home, Mamá sinks into the couch, exhausted. My mind sees the red velvet cushions. Blood-red. So much blood.
We should run.
&;You and Chico go rest,&; she says, pulling up her legs and lying down without bothering to change out of her black dress. &;I&;m going to stay here for just a little while. Close and lock the door.&;
Chico gets up from where he was sitting in the doorway and I do as Mamá says. He heads to our room and I follow. There is a heaviness in the air, pressing down on us. The thud of my own feet sounds terrible. But as I walk past Mamá, she reaches for my arm and grabs it.
&;Pulga,&; she says. The force of her touch and her voice startles me. I look at her tired face and she says, &;Te quiero mucho, Pulgita.&;
&;I know, Mamá. I love you, too.&; But there is something else she wants to say, and doesn&;t. I can see it on her face. She just nods, lets go of my arm, and closes her eyes.
I stand there for just a moment, wondering if Doña Agostina told her about the dream she had. Or maybe Pequeña said something. Maybe Mamá is starting to believe in brujas and superstitions. Maybe I should, too.
Maybe Mamá will even tell me I should run, because it&;s the only way. That I have her blessing. That she understands broken promises.
Instead she takes a deep breath, lets it out.
And I go to my room.
Chico has the fan on the highest setting and it whirs loudly.
I close the door, even though it keeps the room hotter.
&;Well?&; Chico asks as I enter. He is fidgety and restless. The brown stripes on his shirt match his skin perfectly. I stare out the window.
&;I don&;t know,&; I tell him. I haven&;t told him what Doña Agostina told me, but the strange things Pequeña said put him on edge. He hasn&;t been able to sit still since, and even here, he seems to be looking over his shoulder.
&;She said something bad was going to happen. To us, Pulga. Something bad is going to happen to us.&;
I don&;t say anything and try to stay calm.
&;Holy shit,&; Chico whispers, making my heart beat faster. I look out the window, expecting to see Rey standing there with a gun pointed right at us.
There is no one there.
When I turn back to Chico, he is looking at me strangely. &;You believe her . . . don&;t you?&;
I think of the book I keep under my mattress&;information I&;ve collected over the last few years on how to get to the States. Notes. Printouts. The train. La Bestia. I think of how my tía in the United States sends money for me every year and Mamá only gives me five or ten dollars before saving the rest for me in a hiding place. I think of how I know that hiding place. How I know that tía&;s phone number and address. Have memorized both. How I know where to exchange dollars to quetzales and pesos and have already done so with those bills Mamá has given me each time.
Just in case.
But I don&;t like the terrified look on Chico&;s face. The one that confirms what we are both afraid to believe.
I shake my head. My heart is racing and it feels hard to breathe, but I tell myself it&;s just the heat.
&;You know what? This baby has Pequeña all messed up,&; I tell Chico. &;That&;s all. She&;s not herself. All we have to do is act normal.&; The lies spill from my mouth. But they taste better than the truth.
He closes his eyes and tears stream down his face.
&;Even if Rey thinks we saw something,&; I continue, &;or know something, he&;ll keep an eye on us. And when he sees we&;re acting normal, that we haven&;t told anyone anything, he&;ll leave us alone.&;
Chico opens his eyes. They&;re red and watery and unconvinced. He wipes at them roughly, but tears keep streaming down his face. I sit down next to him on his mattress, put my arm over his shoulders.
&;It&;ll be okay, Chico. I promise.&;
&;But, Pulga . . .&;
&;It&;s all going to be okay . . .&;
He stares at me for a moment, and I will myself to believe it so he will, too. Maybe I can believe it. Maybe if I believe it, it will be true.
&;Come on, you trust me, don&;t you? I promise you it&;ll be okay.&;
After a while he says, &;Okay.&; Guilt washes over me, but I push it away. &;If you say so, Pulga, okay.&;
&;All we have to do is act normal, okay?&;
He nods again. &;Okay.&;
&;We saw nothing, Chico. Just remember that. We went there, we grabbed a soda, and we headed back home. By the time what happened happened, we were far away from there. We were never there, Chico. We saw nothing.&;
He takes a deep breath. &;We saw nothing.&;
&;That&;s right,&; I tell him. &;We saw nothing.&; I grab hold of these words so they will force out thoughts of running. Maybe I can put my faith into these words instead. Maybe I can will these words to save us.
The fan whirs and catches our words.
We saw nothing.
We saw nothing.
We saw nothing.
Those words circle around us the day after Don Felicio&;s funeral. And the day after that. And the day after that. For over a week Chico and I go on as normal. We head to school even though all I do is watch the door, waiting, barely able to tell one day apart from another.
We saw nothing.
We take no detours. We look over our shoulders every five minutes.
We saw nothing.
We repeat those words in our heads so much that we hear them in the thud of our steps on the way home from school. We hear them as we walk past Don Felicio&;s store&;which doesn&;t even exist anymore, all boarded up the way it is.
We saw nothing.
We repeat them so much that we almost believe them. And we start to think maybe, maybe we&;ve escaped. Maybe we&;ll be okay. But then one morning we&;re headed to school. And my breath catches.
I see that car.
Barreling toward us once more.
It grinds to a stop too quickly, spraying dirt and dust on Chico and me. The same car Rey and Nestor drove the other day.
&;Get in,&; Nestor calls to us as we try to wave away the dust from our faces. It gets caught in my lashes and I can taste it. Nestor is alone, but he&;s positioned the car to block our way.
&;No, we&;re okay. Thanks,&; I say, grabbing on to Chico&;s shoulder and starting to walk around the car.
&;You think I&;m offering you a ride? I said, get in.&; He puts his hand on a gun lying on the passenger seat.
I look at Chico and he looks back at me. His eyes are frantic and I think Chico might run. I can feel my own legs wanting to run, but there&;s something else in my brain holding me back, not letting me move.
Maybe it&;s remembering how Nestor picked on everyone as soon as he grew a few inches. Maybe it&;s the way he looked at Rey years ago when Rey said he should have taken care of me and Chico himself. Maybe it&;s knowing how eagerly Nestor is trying to prove himself.
I look back to see if anyone will see me and Chico getting in the car. People talk about how Nestor is following in his brother&;s footsteps, and the same is thought of anyone seen with either of them.
&;Go ahead,&; I say quietly to Chico. I can see the fear threatening to choke him. I can feel it rising in my own throat, like bile. But we both get in.
And that&;s when I know this isn&;t going to go away. Rey and Nestor found out somehow. They know we know it was them at Don Felicio&;s store. And now they&;ve come for us.
Fate is fate. And this . . . it turns out, has always been our fate. The thing is, I guess I&;ve always known it would be. And still, I lied to myself.
Even if Mamá thinks I have an artist&;s heart, even if I try to see the world in color, even if I dare to dream&;it doesn&;t matter when your world keeps turning black.