We Are Not from Here

Book review by
Lucinda Dyer, Common Sense Media
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Haunting and unforgettable story of fleeing teen refugees.

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Kids say

age 14+
Based on 14 reviews

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

In addition to putting relatable faces on the current crisis around Central American refugees, the novel shows readers the circumstances (violence, drugs, poverty) that have made thousands of people flee countries like Guatemala and risk their lives (and even the lives of their young children) for the chance of a better life in the United States.

Positive Messages

In many ways, this is a story about the extraordinary power of hope. Hope gives you the courage to go forward despite your fears.

Positive Role Models & Representations

The deep friendship that's grown between Pulga, Chico, and Pequeña gives each assurance that they'll not have to undertake the journey to the U.S. alone. During their journey, all three show remarkable courage and resourcefulness and never fail to support and encourage one another.


Story is filled with violence, threats of violence. Murders, bloody fights, beatings. Many descriptions are very graphic --  e.g., blood seeping into concrete and mixing with leaking innards of bodies. A teen girl is forced (by unspoken but all too real threats against her and her family) to have sex with a man she despises. Characters witness the shooting and last dying moments (gurgling sounds and blood gushing between his fingers) of a friend. A child sees his murdered mother's body lying in the street. A key character dies.


Characters regularly use profanity ("f--k," "s--t," "a--hole," "bitch," "hell," "damn").

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Some characters are members of a drug gang. One character smokes.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Jenny Torres Sanchez's haunting and inspiring novel We Are Not from Here is the story of three teens from Guatemala who undertake a dangerous and potentially deadly journey to the U.S. border. Pulga, Chico, and Pequeña are literally fleeing for their lives. Pulga and Chico are the only witnesses to a brutal murder by a local drug gang. Pequeña has just given birth to a son, whose drug dealer father had "chosen" her for a sexual relationship and now, to be his wife. Telling no one (and leaving Pequeña's baby behind), the three begin a terrifying journey by bus, on foot, and clinging to the top of trains across Guatemala and Mexico to the U.S. border. Characters regularly use profanity ("f--k," "s--t," "a--hole," and "bitch). The story is filled with murders, bloody fights, and beatings. Many descriptions are very graphic, such as blood gushing between a man's fingers as he lays dying, and blood seeping into concrete and mixing with the leaking innards of bodies. The birth of Pequeña's son is described in some detail. A key character dies. 

User Reviews

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Teen, 15 years old Written bybadbleepbookreviews September 8, 2020

A Trio's Journey

We Are Not From Here is an incredibly detailed, heart melting, and somewhat explicit novel. It tells the story of a trio immigrating from their rough town in Gu... Continue reading
Teen, 16 years old Written byLukeHutchinson September 18, 2020

A must read for teenagers and young adults

Three teenagers from Guatemala go on a journey to the United States for a new life. Their life in Guatemala is very dangerous and Pulga, Penquna, and Chico deci... Continue reading

What's the story?

When WE ARE NOT FROM HERE begins, teens Pulga, Chico, and Pequeña are living in a Guatemalan town consumed by violence. Fifteen-year-old Pulga dreams of becoming a musician like his father and is already planning what he calls his "escape." The shy and still grief-stricken Chico had come to live with Pulga's family after the murder of his mother, who was shot down in the street when he was 11. Seventeen-year-old Pequeña is pregnant by a man she despises. Rey is a gang member who had "chosen" her and used barely disguised threats to force her into having sex with him. After Pulga and Chico witness the murder of a beloved local shopkeeper by Rey's gang, they know reporting what they saw will mean certain death. They decide to keep silent, but to their horror, they find that silence means they are now expected to become part of the gang. After Pequeña gives birth to a son, Rey informs her that she'll become his wife, something she vows will never happen. The three decide they have no choice but to flee, leaving their families and Pequeña's baby behind. But their journey is more terrifying than they could have imagined. Days without food, hiding from kidnappers, walking for untold miles, sometimes across the desert. And then there are the trains that will hopefully take them to the U.S. border. They have to run fast enough to grab onto the train and swing themselves on before climbing up to the train's roof. There they'll join men, women, and children all clinging on for their very lives.

Is it any good?

This harrowing and heartbreakingly realistic novel is inspired by current events: the thousands of women, children, and men from Central America seeking refuge in the United States. The storyline of We Are Not from Here offers an opportunity for parents and teens to discuss one of today's hot-button issues. Readers can contemplate what should happen to people like Pulga, Chico, and Pequeña who want to start new lives in the United States. Should all of them be admitted? Why should someone be turned away?

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the violence experienced by the teens in We Are Not from Here. What do you think it would be like to live in a place where you never felt safe? Would you be more afraid to stay or to leave?

  • Has the media done a good job or a poor job explaining the reasons why so many people are willing to risk their lives to try to cross the border from Mexico into the United States?

  • Would you be physically able to undertake a journey like the one taken by Pulga, Chico, and Pequeña? Could you walk for miles, go days without food, or run fast enough to jump on a train?

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love stories of refugees and danger

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