Mary Fahrenbruck and Violet Henderson, New Mexico State University, Las Cruces, NM
During the month of April, Mary Fahrenbruck and Violet Henderson give their take on the 2021 Pura Belpré award winners and honor books. Readers will recall that the award is named after the first Latina librarian at the New York Public Library. The Pura Belpré award “is presented annually to a Latino/Latina writer and illustrator whose work best portrays, affirms, and celebrates the Latino cultural experience in an outstanding work of literature for children and youth” (ALSC, 2021).
In the first installment, Mary and Violet discuss We Are Not From Here written by Jenny Torres Sanchez. The Young Adult novel was a Pura Belpré honor book.
VIOLET: In this novel, we meet three teens, Pequeña, Pulga, and Chico, from Guatemala. They live in a small town with kind people who care for and look out for each other. However, not everyone in their town is as kindhearted and certain troubles alter the plans they each had for their lives. Even in the characters’ names, all derivative of the word “small,” and in the names of other characters in the story, Sanchez uses metaphor to unveil a story of courage, strength, and resilience.
MARY: Pequeña, Pulga, and Chico’s troubles seemingly resulted from being in the wrong place at the wrong time. If only Pequeña had not looked up while she was walking past Rey. If only Pulga and Chico had shopped at a different store where Rey’s thugs hadn’t shown up. If only.
The truth is that Pequeña, Pulga, and Chico live in a city controlled by Rey and his cartel. No one is safe, especially if Rey has decided he can use that person to become even more powerful. And that is precisely what happened to Pequeña, Pulga, and Chico. Their lives are now controlled by Rey unless they can escape to El Norte.
Sanchez weaves together Pequeña, Pulga, and Chico’s voices to tell an emotionally gripping story of three teens’ deadly journey to the United States. Sanchez writes with honesty, passion and integrity. There were moments throughout the novel when I had to stop reading because I knew what was going to happen and I had to prepare myself for the heartache that was to come. This story still lingers in my mind.
VIOLET: The characters and story have remained with me as well, Mary. From beginning to end, Sanchez’s story gripped at all of the emotions inside of me. Following this harrowing journey, I kept reminding myself, “These are just three teenagers.” While this journey is dangerous for all who embark upon it, one critical theme that also emerged was how this experience is notably different for Pequeña, being a female, and the extra precautions and measures she took because of that fact. I read that current events inspired this story, and it is such a timely book that offers another perspective surrounding immigration issues and crossing borders. I am still so compelled by the characters and the story that I want to learn more about them. I hope Sanchez writes a sequel. I cannot wait to learn more about what becomes of the characters’ lives and of the family they left back in Guatemala.
MARY: I love the idea of a sequel or even a trilogy, Violet! Sanchez’s novel represents one part of many immigrants’ experiences of seeking refuge in the United States. I would like Sanchez to include Nene’s (the little boy who crossed into the U.S. with the other characters) story in the trilogy as well.
I think Sanchez’s novel serves as a call to action. First, this story serves as a wake-up call to those who aren’t aware of the deadly dangers that many refugees are fleeing in their home country. This information should shift our thinking from protecting the U.S. border to protecting people seeking asylum at the U.S. border. Next, the story calls for groups and agencies to hold criminals and coyotes accountable for the harm they inflict on refugees, especially the most vulnerable. Finally, the story calls for more humane accommodations for refugees detained while they await screening and vetting for resettlement. Now that we know better, we can do better.
We were deeply moved by this novel and we think WOW readers will be deeply moved as well. Please let us know your thoughts in the comment box below about your experiences reading We Are Not From Here by Jenny Torres Sanchez.
Title: We Are Not From Here
Author: Jenny Torres Sanchez
Publisher: Penguin Random House
PubDate: May 19, 2020
Throughout April 2021, Mary Fahrenbruck and Violet Henderson discuss 2021 Pura Belpré award winners and honor books. Check back each Wednesday to follow the conversation!