Disclaimer: I was sent a free copy as a part of this tour. This did not impact my opinion, review, or anything else in any way. SPOILER FREE!
Title: We Are Not Free
Author: Traci Chee
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication Date: September 1, 2020
Genres: Historical YA Fiction
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.”
From New York Times best-selling and acclaimed author Traci Chee comes We Are Not Free, 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.
I went into this book with very little knowledge of what happened to Japanese people in the U.S. during WWII. I read a book for younger kids of a child at an incarceration camp about ten years ago, but as I read We Are Not Free, I soon realized that that other book was only one story about how people of Japanese ancestry were impacted by being forced into incarceration camps for years.
We Are Not Free details the lives of fourteen teens in these incarceration camps. What Traci Chee does with these fourteen POVs is amazing. All fourteen captivated me, and made me realize that there is a lot more to this time period in U.S. History than what I’ve been taught in schools. Yes, all fourteen of these teenagers are second-generation Japanese American citizens, and they all have different personalities and voices that are real. Because this is a real event in history.
The main themes I loved were hope and friendship. Chee allows her characters to be vulnerable and writes the human connection that really draws the reader into the story. This is a book that focuses on how friendships can be formed anywhere, and these teens did not have to be strong all the time. Hope can coexist with pain.
One storyline that I had no idea about before reading this book was that Japanese teens in these incaraceration camps were drafted into the U.S. military. Reading this storyline really impacted me, as did the entire book. I do want to talk about the author’s note as well: I hope every reader reads all the way through because Traci Chee dedicated a lot to this book. I also love the fact that Chee included a “Further Reading” and “Image Credits” section.
Overall, this book needs to be read. As someone who is going through high school in the U.S., this is a book I want to see in my classes for history and reading because to be perfectly honest, a lot of Asian American history is ignored, and it is disappointing that the incarceration of people of Japanese ancestry during WWII isn’t talked about more (at least in the school that I am at). I will 100% be advocating for Traci Chee’s book to become a part of my school’s curriculum because there is more to U.S. History than we’ve been taught.
Book Recs Based on We Are Not Free
- The Downstairs Girl by Stacey Lee: This is one of my favorite books of 2019. Jo Kuan works as a lady’s maid during the day and is an advice columnist by night. Jo is a Chinese American girl who lives in Atlanta around the year of 1890. Highly recommend. I am very pleased to see more books about Asian Americans in history.
- Butterfly Yellow by Thanhhà Lại: This book is about Hằng and her search for her brother, Linh. “In the final days of Việt Nam War,” Hằng and Linh go to the airport. Linh is taken to the U.S., and Hằng arrives in the U.S after him. Six years later, Hằng and Linh reunite. Butterfly Yellow is about family and friendships, and how your feelings matter.
- Outrun the Moon by Stacey Lee: I read this in 2016 as part of a Battle of the Books reading list, and it is one of my all time favorite historical novels. Mercy Wong is a Chinese girl who lives in San Francisco in 1906 in Chinatown, and is a motivated 15 year old. When an earthquake uproots her life and school, Mercy wonders what she can do to help. Just thinking about this book makes me want to re-read it.
I chose these three books because in the U.S, the history of Asians living in the U.S. needs to be taught more. These books, along with We Are Not Free, are helping grow the number of books about this subject. Asians have been in the U.S. for a long time, and this history needs to be learned. It is important to note that all of these books tell very different stories. There are so many parts of the history of Asians in the U.S., and this is vital to keep in mind.
Links to Buy:
Traci Chee is the New York Times best-selling author of The Reader trilogy. She studied literature and creative writing at UC Santa Cruz and earned a master of arts degree from San Francisco State University. She is Japanese American and was inspired to write We Are Not Free by her family’s experience during World War II. Some of the events she includes in the book are loosely inspired by their stories. She loves books, poetry and paper crafts, as well as bonsai gardening and games. She lives in California.