BookBrowse Reviews We Are Not from Here by Jenny Torres Sanchez

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reviews |  Beyond the book |  Read-Alikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

We Are Not from Here

by Jenny Torres Sanchez

We Are Not from Here by Jenny Torres Sanchez X
We Are Not from Here by Jenny Torres Sanchez
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • First Published:
    May 2020, 368 pages

    May 2021, 336 pages


  • Rate this book

Book Reviewed by:
Catherine M Andronik
Buy This Book

About this Book



Three teenagers escape Guatemala and attempt a perilous journey to the U.S. atop Mexico's infamous La Bestia train in this urgent and evocative YA novel.

Voted 2020 Best Young Adult Award Winner by BookBrowse Subscribers

Pulga and Chico are only dimly aware of the danger around them — the corruption, the drug dealing and the gang violence — as they grow up in a small town in Guatemala. But on the day their friend Pequeña has her baby, the three teenagers lose all semblance of innocence. The boys witness a murder, Pequeña wants nothing to do with the child of the man who holds her town hostage, and the friends realize that their lives depend on fleeing Puerto Barrios. Others from their village have made it to the United States on the back of the infamous train La Bestia; Pulga has been meticulously planning the trip north for as long as he can remember. And so, under cover of night, a teenage girl who gave birth days before, a gentle giant of a boy, and his best friend who feels the world too much, set off together on a journey many able-bodied men do not survive. Their story is told from two points of view — which is clear but heartbreaking foreshadowing.

The teens' harrowing trip north is full of chance encounters with the sorts of people who have made the plight of immigrants their business, some genuinely caring and helpful, others exploitative and opportunistic. Their ride through Mexico on La Bestia is depicted as a multisensory experience, sometimes nightmarish, sometimes triumphant. And the conclusion of that journey highlights the various ways a trip like this can end in these days of unaccompanied children waiting in cages on the border. The book avoids overtly politicizing the situation of these characters — an attorney volunteers to take their case, so they are safe from deportation, at least for a while — but it also makes clear that no sane person would repeatedly risk death in the desert or under the wheels of a train unless they had a desperate need to escape something terrible.

Pequeña, who disguises herself as a boy for her own safety, has a touch of second sight. Magical realism is not uncommon in books with Latinx characters, but it runs the risk of turning into a trope in the hands of a clumsy writer. Sanchez's hands are not clumsy; Pequeña believes in and trusts her visions, and they are described as vividly and beautifully as the horrors of La Bestia.

The ending of the journey is a bit too convenient to be fully believable, but it still feels right. And it is not a comfortable ending, though the most life-threatening moments may be behind these young people. It is also fitting that two characters who have frequently been called by somewhat juvenile, condescending nicknames finally come into their own, as if their ordeal has been a baptism.

Refugees have been traveling to what they hope will be a better life in the United States for generations, and the stream of undocumented immigrants continues. We Are Not from Here, with its young, sympathetic, genuinely desperate characters, is a heart-wrenchingly real novel to hand to any teen or adult who wonders how and why that journey can be so urgent and imperative for some.

This review was originally published in The BookBrowse Review in July 2020, and has been updated for the June 2021 edition. Click here to go to this issue.

This review is available to non-members for a limited time. For full access become a member today.
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $45 for 12 months or $15 for 3 months.
  • More about membership!


Read-Alikes Full readalike results are for members only

If you liked We Are Not from Here, try these:

  • Wings in the Wild jacket

    Wings in the Wild

    by Margarita Engle

    Published 2023

    About this book

    More by this author

    This gorgeously romantic contemporary novel-in-verse from award-winning author Margarita Engle tells the inspiring love story of two teens fighting for climate action and human rights.

  • We Are Not Free jacket

    We Are Not Free

    by Traci Chee

    Published 2022

    About this book

    More by this author

    "All around me, my friends are talking, joking, laughing. Outside is the camp, the barbed wire, the guard towers, the city, the country that hates us.
    We are not free.
    But we are not alone."

We have 7 read-alikes for We Are Not from Here, but non-members are limited to two results. To see the complete list of this book's read-alikes, you need to be a member.
More books by Jenny Torres Sanchez
Search read-alikes
How we choose read-alikes

Join BookBrowse

For a year of great reading
about exceptional books!

Find out more

Top Picks

  • Book Jacket: Move Like Water
    Move Like Water
    by Hannah Stowe
    As a child growing up on the Pembrokeshire Coast in Wales, Hannah Stowe always loved the sea, ...
  • Book Jacket
    Loved and Missed
    by Susie Boyt
    London-based author and theater director Susie Boyt has written seven novels and the PEN Ackerley ...
  • Book Jacket: Beyond the Door of No Return
    Beyond the Door of No Return
    by David Diop
    In early 19th-century France, Aglaé's father Michel Adanson dies of old age. Sitting at ...
  • Book Jacket: Crossings
    by Ben Goldfarb
    We've all seen it—a dead animal carcass on the side of the road, clearly mowed down by a car. ...

Book Club Discussion

Book Jacket
Fair Rosaline
by Natasha Solomons
A subversive, powerful untelling of Romeo and Juliet by New York Times bestselling author Natasha Solomons.

Members Recommend

  • Book Jacket

    All You Have to Do Is Call
    by Kerri Maher

    An inspiring novel based on the true story of the Jane Collective and the brave women who fought for our right to choose.

  • Book Jacket

    The Wren, the Wren
    by Anne Enright

    An incandescent novel about the inheritance of trauma, wonder, and love across three generations of women.

Win This Book
Win Moscow X

25 Copies to Give Away!

A daring CIA operation threatens chaos in the Kremlin. But can Langley trust the Russian at its center?



Solve this clue:

A M I A Terrible T T W

and be entered to win..

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends the best in contemporary fiction and nonfiction—books that not only engage and entertain but also deepen our understanding of ourselves and the world around us.