We Were Here
By Matt de la Peña
Sonny Sanders
Dr. Tonya Perry
18 February 2020

Mental Conflict in We Were Here
Peña, Matt de la. We Were Here. Delacorte Press, 2009.

       We Were Here is written from the perspective of Miguel, a teenage boy who has been convicted in juvenile court and sent to live in a group home for a year. One aspect of his sentence is to write a journal. The book is written as if it is Miguel’s journal. While in the group home Miguel meets two other teens in Rondall, a black teen who has a learning disability, and Mong, an Asian teen with anger issues.  Miguel’s first interaction with these young men is violent but when Mong comes to him with a plan to escape, Miguel decides that, since he has nothing better to do, it is a good idea. Much of the rest of the book is their adventure along the coast of California as they travel to Mexico. The themes of the book include coming of age, fear, doubt, conflict, friendship, love and the reality of their own mortality.

        In, Conflict and Connection: The Psychology of Yong Adult Literature, Sharon A. Stringer, she discusses the identity development found in Young Adult Literature.  In We Were Here Miguel, fights with the idea of who he is and where he fits in the world. He tries to project a tough guy persona who could not care less about how other people perceive him but even he doubts the validity of this mindset. Part of the conflict within him is due to him being bi-racial. When Rondall gives him the nickname Mexico, Miguel’s response is that it is a stupid name because he has never been to Mexico.

        However, Miguel’s identity and mental conflict is not only a battle within himself to understand who he is as it relates to race and culture. He has a dark secret which he refuses to even disclose to anyone. He bottles this up so much that he lies about important information in his life to the degree that he begins to believe it himself. Miguel’s identity development is shaped by his “surviving the extraordinary” event in his young life (Stringer 2). The unspoken “bad thing” that Miguel has done creates a confusion of identity which leaves him without a purpose in life and a feeling that his life was meaningless. This is expressed when Miguel makes the comment "I didn't have nobody that cared for me anymore. Not even my own self” (Pena 17).

        During their time of travel, Miguel changes in many ways. He broke out of the group home because he could not think of a good reason not to, but he soon finds a purpose in the adventure. He begins to believe that if he can only get to Mexico then he can escape his past and begin a future. Though he continues to question himself because of the unspoken horrible thing that he has done he hopes that Mexico will be better.
Though Miguel, Rondall, and Mong are from different cultures and have faced different struggles they become friends along the journey. It is this friendship where Miguel begins to face the past. Along the way, he comes to terms with what he has done and faces the pain and the guilt. His maturity along the way manifests itself in the knowledge that he cannot run from the past. It is always there like a ghost haunting him. The only way to rid himself of the specter is to face it head-on. As the book concludes Miguel finally begins to reach what Stringer calls “identity achievement” and comes to terms with what he has done and what he must do to face the past (Stringer 3).

Additional books by Matt de la Peña
Ball Don't Lie
Mexican WhiteBoy
We Were Here
I Will Save You
A Nation's Hope-The Story of Boxing Legend Joe Louis
Infinity Ring: Curse of the Ancients   
Infinity Ring: Eternity                          
The Living                  
The Hunted                            
Superman: Dawnbreaker
"But maybe when somethin' really bad happens in your life...maybe then you wish you could make it go back to being boring."

"I didn't have nobody that cared for me anymore. Not even my own self.