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Reviews of We Are Not Free by Traci Chee

We Are Not Free

by Traci Chee

We Are Not Free by Traci Chee X
We Are Not Free by Traci Chee
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Sep 2020, 400 pages

    Paperback:
    Mar 2022, 400 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Catherine M Andronik
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About this Book

Book Summary

"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
We Never Look Like Us

Minnow, 14 March 1942

It's been over three months since the attack on Pearl Harbor, and my oldest brother, Mas, has told me to come straight home from school each day. Take the bus, he says. No loitering around, he says. I mean it, Minnow.

I used to love walking back to the apartment in the afternoons, seeing all the interesting things going on in the city: bodies being excavated at Calvary Cemetery, buildings going up in empty lots, chattering kids coming out of Kinmon Gakuen, the old Japanese language school.

But that's been closed since last December, when it became the Civil Control Station, because Pearl Harbor changed everything for us. We have a new eight-p.m. curfew. People are starting to talk about involuntary evacuation. And Mas has warned me not to get caught out alone. Don't do anything that'll make them come down on you, he says. Don't give them any excuse.

And I haven't.

Until today.

I don't know what happened. I was walking out of George ...

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...
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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

In this novel, which begins in 1942, 14 Japanese American teenagers are ripped from their lives in San Francisco and relocated to detention camps scattered across the western United States. Chee draws on the experiences of her own grandparents to recreate events and bring to vivid life characters with a wide range of personalities and versions of the broken American dream. With a more individual focus, Traci Chee offers a wider, multifaceted picture of this shameful episode in America's past...continued

Full Review (753 words)

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(Reviewed by Catherine M Andronik).

Media Reviews

BookPage (starred review)
Chee is an extraordinarily gifted writer whose words here have a searing intensity. Though her book is packed with historical detail, her characters and their interactions sparkle with energy, even as their experiences remain all-too-timely...We Are Not Free is a superb addition to the works of literature that chronicle this shameful chapter of American history.

Booklist (starred review)
Chee is a master storyteller...Here, she uses her own San Francisco–based Japanese American family's history to inform a blazing and timely indictment of the incarceration of Japanese Americans during WWII. Her passion and personal involvement combine with her storytelling talents to create a remarkable and deeply moving account of the incarceration…[We Are Not Free] should become required curriculum reading on a shameful and relevant chapter in U.S. history.

Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
A compelling and transformative story of a tragic period in American history...Each voice is powerful, evoking raw emotions of fear, anger, resentment, uncertainty, grief, pride, and love...An unforgettable must-read.

Publishers Weekly (starred review)
The individual tales are well crafted and emotionally compelling, and they resolve into an elegant arc. Ambitious in scope and complexity, this is an essential contribution to the understanding of the wide-ranging experiences impacting people of Japanese ancestry in the U.S. during WWII.

School Library Journal (starred review)
The novel may be fiction, but it will be hard for readers not to fall deep into the harsh realities these teens face. The writing is engaging and emotionally charged, allowing the readers to connect with each character...Chee's words are a lot to take in, but necessary and beautiful all the same.

Author Blurb Akemi Dawn Bowman, Morris Award Finalist and author of Starfish
Traci Chee masterfully weaves together harrowing truths about the mass incarceration of Japanese and Japanese-Americans during WWII, and features a cast of friends whose honesty, strength, and love for one another will break your heart. With characters who need to have their stories told, and a history that should never be forgotten, We Are Not Free is powerful, moving, and so incredibly necessary.

Author Blurb Debbi Michiko Florence
These powerful interconnected stories of incarceration during WWII told by Nisei youth will wrap around your heart like barbed wire. With deft touches of humor, heart, pathos, and anger, We Are Not Free by the talented Traci Chee is the best Japanese American incarceration novel I've read. I loved this book that epitomized gaman and will be buying a copy for everyone in my family.

Author Blurb Veera Hiranandani, Newbery Honor winning author of The Night Diary
A brilliant and intimate portrayal of several San Francisco teenagers during the mass incarceration of Japanese-Americans in World War II. Chee's nuanced and unforgettable characters will serve to enlighten readers about this devastating and shameful piece of America's past. A beautiful, painful, and necessary work of historical fiction.

Reader Reviews

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Beyond the Book

The U.S. 442nd Infantry Regiment

442nd Regiment with German POWsIn Traci Chee's young adult historical novel We Are Not Free, which follows 14 Japanese American teens from San Francisco through World War II, two young men in Topaz detention camp, Mas and Twitchy, decide to volunteer for the army. Japanese American men were unable to serve until early 1943; the American government had considered them enemy aliens since the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Director of the Office of War Information Elmer Davis urged President Franklin D. Roosevelt to reverse the ban on soldiers of Japanese descent in a 1942 letter, in part for propaganda reasons, but also because he believed most Japanese Americans were loyal citizens and deserved to serve if they wished.

But once they enlisted, Japanese American soldiers were ...

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Read-Alikes

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