Jenny Torres Sanchez’s fifth young adult novel, We Are Not From Here, is an unforgettable story of three teens forced to leave their homeland in search of safety and the possibility of a better life.
In the town of Puerto Barrios, Guatemala, Pequeña is laboring to give birth to an unplanned baby. Her friends, Pulga and Chico, who consider themselves brothers and have lived together at Pulga’s house ever since Chico’s mother’s violent death, go for a walk as they anxiously await the delivery. While stopping in their favorite convenience store for a snack to tide them over, they become unwilling witnesses to a devastating crime that will change the course of their lives.
Torres Sanchez immerses readers in the teens’ lives in Puerto Barrios, where they are surrounded by loving extended families and a warm sense of community, but a sense of hopelessness subdues any expectations they have for the future. When pressure from the local gang leader to join his enterprise becomes unbearable, Pulga, Chico and Pequeña realize they have no choice but to run for their lives, leaving Pequeña’s baby behind. Together, they make their way toward La Bestia, the crowded network of trains full of desperate people migrating north in search of opportunity.
We Are Not From Here astonishes even as it conveys harsh realities. Torres Sanchez’s prose alternately chills and sings as it brings primal human experiences—life and death, despair and hunger, fear and hope—to the page in brilliant relief. The choice to employ first-person narration, commonplace in young adult literature, is particularly effective here and adds immediacy to the threats that seem to lie in wait around every corner. Elements of magical realism elevate the teens’ journey to epic, mythic heights. It all makes for a stunning, visceral and deeply moving read.