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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]
Copyright Date: ©2020
ISBN: 9780358131434
Branch Call Number: YA CHEE 2020
Characteristics: 384 pages : illustrations ; 21 cm


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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.


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