Reading guide for We Are Not Free by Traci Chee

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We Are Not Free

by Traci Chee

We Are Not Free by Traci Chee X
We Are Not Free by Traci Chee
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  • First Published:
    Sep 2020, 400 pages

    Mar 2022, 400 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Catherine M Andronik
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About this Book

Reading Guide Questions Print Excerpt

Please be aware that this discussion guide will contain spoilers!

Discussion Questions
  1. Why do you think the author chose to write each chapter from a different character's first-person perspective?
  2. How is each character's "voice" different from the others? Some use swear words, while others are more refined, for starters.
  3. Which character did you identify with the most, and why?
  4. Keiko's chapter when she is eighteen years old is the only one that's written in the second person: "This is the last night you'll be together. This is not the first time you've thought that." Why do you think the author switched from first to second person just for this chapter? How does the change in perspective affect the impact of this chapter?
  5. What did you think about Tommy's chapter toward the end of the book, which is written in pairs of poems labeled "Japanese" and "American"? How do the two styles of verses differ from each other?
  6. The story in eighteen-year-old Stan's chapter about the man who was shot and killed by a guard while walking his dog is based on an incident that happened at the Topaz camp. How would you react if you witnessed the shooting?
  7. Do words matter? There are subtle word choices in We Are Not Free that show how language evolves over time. Traci Chee explains in her author's note that she uses the then-accepted euphemisms "internment" and "evacuation" in the book even though today, the more accurate terms are "incarceration" and "forced removal." She also notes that she uses a term for African American (black) in the book that is acceptable today, but was not then. What do you think of her choices with these terms?
  8. How would you feel if you and your family and friends were told that you would need to leave your homes and businesses and be taken somewhere else to live without knowing where or for how long? If you were forced to leave your home and business or farm behind and had to throw away or sell at low prices most of your belongings, how would your family adapt?
  9. After the war, when Japanese Americans were released, some returned to the West Coast but many went to cities such as Chicago. They still faced racism, and at first it was difficult to even find a place to live. How would you react if you were told you couldn't live or shop someplace because of your identity?
  10. How much did you know about the Japanese American incarceration before reading We Are Not Free?
  11. Has what happened to Japanese Americans during WWII happened to other people in the United States, either before or since?
  12. Can what happened to Japanese Americans happen again to another group?

Writing Activities

  1. Write a letter (or an email, but pretend you're hand-writing a letter—don't make it a short text) to a friend who is far away. Maybe their family moved, or they're in college or the military. Explain something that happened to you that made you angry, or sad, or happy. How do you express emotion? Write two short scenes from someone else's perspective: first as someone you know, like a friend or family member, and then as someone you don't know but see, like a store clerk or restaurant owner. How do you change your point of view? What do you need to know about someone to "become" them?
  2. Put yourself in the shoes of a young Japanese American who was born and raised in the United States and now is imprisoned in a camp like Topaz in Utah. How do you think you would answer the two controversial questions in the "loyalty questionnaire" that everyone over the age of seventeen was required to take? One asked if you'd be willing to serve in the U.S. military, and the next question asked if you would "forswear any form of allegiance or obedience to the Japanese emperor." Could you understand why the Japanese and Japanese Americans were so passionately split over these questions?
  3. Imagine if you were told you had to leave in two weeks, and you could only take what could fit into two bags per person or a trunk for your family. (You couldn't take any pets by the way!) You weren't told where you'd be going, or for how long, so you don't know whether to take warm- or cold-weather clothes. Write a paragraph about the things you would take with you, and why you chose them.
  4. Music plays an important role in these young peoples' lives throughout the book. Songs serve as vivid memories of happier times, or distractions from current circumstances through dancing and singing along. It's notable that the friends' music isn't comprised of traditional Japanese songs, but the pop songs and big-band swing music that were popular with all Americans during that time. Name some of the music that you associate with vivid memories of your past, and share what that music means to you.

Unless otherwise stated, this discussion guide is reprinted with the permission of Houghton Mifflin Books For Younger Readers. Any page references refer to a USA edition of the book, usually the trade paperback version, and may vary in other editions.

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