Published by HMH Books for Young Readers in August 2020
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“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 Are Not Free, is the collective account of a tight-knit group of young Nisei, second-generation Japanese American citizens, whose lives are irrevocably changed by the mass U.S. incarcerations of World War II.
Fourteen teens who have grown up together in Japantown, San Francisco.
Fourteen teens who form a community and a family, as interconnected as they are conflicted.
Fourteen teens whose lives are turned upside down when over 100,000 people of Japanese ancestry are removed from their homes and forced into desolate incarceration camps.
In a world that seems determined to hate them, these young Nisei must rally together as racism and injustice threaten to pull them apart.
We Are Not Free by Traci Chee was a tough book for me to read. Not because it was a terrible story or anything, but because it was hard to read about people that are culturally like me having to go through the horrors of WWII. We don’t talk about the forced relocation and incarceration of Japanese Americans much or at least it wasn’t discussed in my school taught history despite the very large Asian American population in my state. And as sad as it may sound, I feel as if a lot of the emotions evoked in We Are Not Free are still seen today in the Asian American population.
We Are Not Free centers around the story of fourteen teens from primarily San Francisco. They all knew each other and were all friends. But as time passes, they’re torn from their homes and also torn apart due to their own decisions or the decisions of their parents in the camps.
I honestly wasn’t sure whether or not fourteen narratives would work, but I quickly realized that a single narrative wouldn’t have been sufficient. We Are Not Free gives you a glimpse of a community of Japanese Americans with varying experiences and views on the issues they faced. You see the anger, the resentment, the confusion, the desire to be white, and any other emotion you could think of for all these characters, and you also get to see a bit into the personality of these characters as well. Traci Chee did an excellent job making each voice its own and incorporating a variety of situations that a Japanese American may have found themselves in due to their answer to the loyalty questionnaire and whether or not they wanted to volunteer for the 442nd Regimental Combat Team. It was well researched, and Traci Chee does acknowledge the factual changes she made in her note at the end.
We Are Not Free by Traci Chee is, overall, a thoughtful acknowledgment of the pain many Japanese Americans suffered, which is something that is rarely discussed in history books today. I would highly recommend this for anyone that’s a teen or older. Honestly, I’m a tad disappointed that I don’t work at a bookstore anymore to hand-sell this book. Hopefully, you’ll consider giving it a read.