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We Are Not Free

We Are Not Free

Book - 2020
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For fourteen-year-old budding artist Minoru Ito, her two brothers, her friends, and the other members of the Japanese-American community in southern California, the three months since Pearl Harbor was attacked have become a waking nightmare. They have been attacked, spat on, and abused with no way to retaliate. Now things are about to get worse, their lives forever changed by the mass incarcerations in the relocation camps.
Publisher: Boston : Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, [2020]
ISBN: 9780358131434
Branch Call Number: YA FIC CHEE, T.
Characteristics: 384 pages : illustrations, maps ; 22 cm


From Library Staff

This is a 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 WWII. These young Nisei rally together as racism and injustice threaten to pull them apart.

Growing up together in the community of Japantown, San Francisco, four second-generation Japanese American teens find their bond tested by widespread discrimination and the mass incarcerations of people of Japanese ancestry during World War II.

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For fourteen-year-old budding artist Minoru Ito, his two brothers, his friends, and the other members of the Japanese-American community in southern California, the three months since Pearl Harbor was attacked have become a waking nightmare. They have been attacked, spat on, and abused with no way to retaliate. Now things are about to get worse, their lives forever changed by the mass incarcerations in the relocation camps.

This was a deep book, with a story that everyone should hear and learn. Let us hope that History will not repeat itself. I picked this book up from the Library, excited to learn more about the incident. At school we learned very little about this event, but I wanted to learn more. Going into this, I knew that there would be chapters 20-30 pages long of each character. In this book the 14 main characters are, Frankie , Tom (Tommy ), Aiko ( Ike ), David ( Twitchy ), Masuru ( Mas ), Shigeo ( Shig ), Minoru ( Minnow ), Stanley ( Stan ), Mary, Keiko, Hiromi ( Bette ), Yuki, Amy ( Yum-Yum ), and Kiyoshi ( Yoshi ) they are Nisei 2nd generation Japanese-American. I wondered how Traci Chee would pull this off, and she did a excellent job at making each character have completely different with personality, and talent. They all seemed like there own individual and not at all like clones of each other. Our 14 character carried this story smoothly, making you see the events in different perspectives. Our 14 characters get discriminated for being Japanese, experiencing there own set of hardships. Through it all they stick together, being ripped from there homes, and but into camps, in hopes to send them back to Japan. They are treated cruelty, anger, and sadness brewing underneath it all. Each character had different problems, they were all from a range of 13-22. I loved there group how they banded together in the face of fear and discriminations. It is absolutely horrible and terrifying how they were treated, 14 teens who grew up together in Japantown San Francisco. They are not the only ones, Japanese, friends, people, and strangers, were all put into these horrible camp. They would be shot down and beaten up just because they were Japanese even if they were innocent. There suffering was so clear, so real, and made me as a reader angry, how could they be treated this way just because they were not White? At some points this book was a bit confusing, because of such a huge cast it was hard for me to sometimes remember there full names, and family. Traci Chee writing was so smooth, poetic at points and descriptive drawing the reader into the characters emotions. This story is about there suffering and growth and there journey to freedom. My Favorite characters were Minoru ( Minnow ), Aiko, Yuki, and Mary. One of The ending scene in this book was so hard-hitting, each characters feeling of loss blooming each into something new, how hard they tried, how close they all were was so beautiful. The Family, and friendship dynamic was also done really well, they were loyal to each other but there were really tough moments too. This story was packed with history, and such real emotions, anger, and rebellion. I enjoyed this book, the story is So important, it was surprising to learn that they had these camps in Canada too not Just the US. This book has a important lesson one that must be heard, known, and remembered.

I recommend this story for 12-13+ and up. This story was heart-felt, emotional, powerful, and I will always remember the story it told.

Violence: 2 ( Some fistfights, blood, and people get shot )
Romance: 2 ( PG: 13+ described kisses and etc / there is not exactly a lot )
Plot Twists: 0 ( None )
Pacing: 3 ( Good sometimes skips ahead )
Positive Message: 5 ( Powerful story of flawed but resilient characters )
Language: 3 ( A lot of swearing, mostly every single word )
Age Level : 12-13+

Jun 24, 2021

I think We Are Not Free by Traci Chee is an amazing and powerful book about the hardships of 14 different Japanese teens during World War II. They are Nisei, second-generation Japanese- American citizens, and their lives are uprooted when they had been sent into the incarceration camps. The different perspectives of each person embodies the different experiences each adolescent faces. I really like how it detailed all the adversities the Japanese teens faced during the incarceration. It was very touching and made me emotional in a good way. I recommend it to those who like to read historical fiction, especially about Asian history, but this book is better for young adult audiences.

JCLChrisK Apr 15, 2021

This follows a group of 14 Japanese friends and siblings (from 9 families), a tight-nit group of neighbors from Japan Town in San Francisco, for three years during World War II, from the exclusion act after the bombing of Pearl Harbor through multiple forced relocations to the end of the war. Most of them become adults during this period. They take turns telling the story in different ways, from simple narration to letters to poetry and more.

As do the events the characters experience, the story starts fairly mundanely and almost dully--if unpleasantly--then builds continuously in weight and power until readers can't help but drown in outrage and rage. The numerous perspectives provided by the cast of characters show how it isn't a single, uniform experience. Some have parents arrested on suspicions before everyone else is removed; some declare their allegiance to the U.S.; some renounce it; some enlist in the army; some are imprisoned within their camps; some have the support of their families and some fight them. All have their identities questioned; all can't help but question their own identities. These become the most consequential years of their lives, ones that will shape them and their families for generations to come. It is an engrossing and moving story.

This is a powerful, essential, accomplished book.

sjpl_rebekah Jan 25, 2021

Dare I say it, but in my mind this is a nearly flawless work of historical fiction. It’s been a long time since a book has made me cry (ok, maybe not that long) and this one did me in. It is SO well written, with the many POVs skillfully woven together to create a comprehensive and heartbreaking depiction of life for Japanese-Americans following the bombing at Pearl Harbor in 1941. I don’t think the treatment of Japanese-Americans who were incarcerated during the years following this tragic event is talked about nearly enough. It is one of the most shameful periods in American history and the rippling effects have repercussions that follow us into the present. Chee’s ability to so poignantly capture the betrayal, heartache, courage, love, and resilience demonstrated by the youth of that era is masterful, and if this book does not receive a shower of awards and accolades it will be a darn shame. I am so impressed with the way she created fourteen distinct voices that captured so many different elements of the time period and included so many different settings, all while keeping the many characters tied together. A truly phenomenal piece of work in every respect.

I would also like to note that the audiobook version is very well cast. Kudos to all the performers for bringing this story to life!

Tigard_HollyCP Jan 03, 2021

What a way to end my year of reading, with this one, one of my top two favorites of 2020 (the other was The List of Things That Will Not Change, by Rebecca Stead)! This is an absolute masterpiece. Follow the fictional story of 14 American teenagers incarcerated during WWII in temporary detention centers, also known as Japanese internment camps. In one chapter each, the characters tell their part of a chronological story between March 1942 and March 1945 about their incarceration or experience fighting the war. The author draws from her own family’s history. I cannot recommend this story enough.

KyCCL Nov 25, 2020

Ever wondered what it was like to be Japanese in America after the bombing of Pearl Harbour? Follow Twitchy, Shig, Yum-Yum and their friends as they deal with the racism, discrimination, and other challenges that come their way, and have to decide whether they are Japanese, American, or both.


Add a Quote

"I want to believe in right and wrong. Here is what's right. Here is what isn't. Here is the line. Here is the question: If I go to war for America, If I kill for America, If I support a America that doesn't support me, am I supporting my oppressors? I'm I killing there enemies so that they can later kill me? I volunteered. I wanted to serve. But who I'm I serving?"
MAS thoughts

"Yeah, it is. But you can't fight everything, Frankie. You've got to pink something to fight for, or you'll wear yourself out trying to fight the world."

"I've decided to think of myself as gorgeous, and not once in my life have I been dim."
BETTE thoughts

"Outside is the camp, the barbed wire, the guard towers, the city, the country that hates us. But in here, we are together. We are free. But we are not alone."
YUM-YUM thoughts

"The ability to hold your pain and bitterness inside you and not let them destory you. To make something beautiful through your anger, or with your anger, and nether erase it nor let it define you. To suffer. And To Rage. And To persevere. "
MINNOW Thoughts


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