Cover Image: We Are Not Free

We Are Not Free

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date:

Member Reviews

God, this book broke me into so many pieces. I was putting it off for two years because I knew this YA historical fiction about Japanese internment camps would be devasting. The story follows fourteen Japanese-American kids as they’re forced to internment camps during WW2. They’re friends, family, and lovers, their stories are much as their own as they are interconnected. Each chapter follows one of the characters, a snippet of their life, their dreams and hopes, their fears, and their relationships. Traci Chee creates such an incredible story by weaving the lives of all these characters together. We see them triumph and failed in their own arcs, while still moving the plot forward, the war moves forward, and the hatred and discrimination of Japanese-Americans escalates. Anyone who knows about US history won’t be surprised by the level of evil, but it’s still heartrending. Yeah, maybe it’s not surprising to say this book made me cry. I’m a sensible person and the rage I feel against injustices makes me cry often. But that would ignore the incredible work of the author; this is a beautiful, moving story that finds its way to being hopeful and resilient. Honestly, I can’t wait to read more by this author.
Was this review helpful?
This book was an emotional ride. It tried hard to weave quite a few different stories and it may have packed a bigger punch if some folks were cut and this got a narrower focus; however, I support the decision to keep so many perspectives because it made it hard to look away from the book and this forced you to pay attention, and LISTEN. Really important read and a book I wish I had when I was younger.
Was this review helpful?
We Are Not Free is, in a word, devastating. It depicts the lives of Japanese Americans during WWII, when they were sent to internment camps by the US government. What I thought was super interesting about this book was the fact that it shows a variety of experiences in the internment camps. While negative no matter what, everyone had a different type of experience, especially based on the manipulative questions that the US government made  Japanese Americans answer. These questions were based on their loyalty to the USA and its government. There are also many characters in this story, and while that can be confusing at first, all of the stories are interconnected. I have read Traci Chee's fantasy writing and I'm so glad I've been able to read a different genre from this author. Highly recommend. Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for an e-arc in exchange for an honest review.
Was this review helpful?
Absolutely incredible and masterful storytelling. The characters felt like real people, and I was instantly transported to their circumstances. I simply forgot I was reading a book! It felt like I was living vicariously through them, and I had a hard time putting this book down. I'll definitely be reading more of this author's work in the future.
Was this review helpful?
Another terrible time in history that needs all of the spotlights. This book is brilliantly done and so intensely sad. The multiple perspectives makes the book even deeper than it could have been if written a different way.
Was this review helpful?
Only an author as skilled with drawing you into a character's journey would be able to write such a tremendous book.The strength of the many voices that carry their tales while being tied to each other helps this book pack a hearty wollop. A must read for those familiar and unfamiliar with this injustice and with concern for the camps we see in present day.
Was this review helpful?
We Are Not Free is a YA Historical Fiction novel, set over the years 1942-1945 as we follow fourteen second-generation Japanese-American teenagers from Japantown in San Francisco and their experiences being forcibly removed and incarcerated in internment camps. Chee alternates perspectives between the teenagers every chapter, giving us a broad range of perspectives that excellently highlights the diverse experiences of the 100,000+ people of Japanese ancestry that were forced from their homes. 

I think that Chee is extremely talented in her craft, particularly in being able to create a fresh, new perspective with each chapter that is clearly so different from its predecessor. I did struggle keeping track of all of the different character for a while, although I think this would've been less of an issue had I had a physical book where I could flip back to the list of characters at the beginning more easily, and this definitely improved as the book went on. There were definitely points of view and characters that I got along with more than others, but I think this is inevitable in a book that has so many perspectives and such a range of personalities featured. In terms of craft also, some of the chapters that were slightly more experimental in terms of writing style - the use of second persona, the voice of the collective group, a chapter written in verse - were some of my favourites, with the changes in writing style perfectly used to emotionally punch the reader in the gut and really hammer home the situation these characters were in. The inclusion of drawings and photographs from the actual internment camps brought the book even more to life and I really appreciated their inclusion in my e-ARC. 

Overall, I think what Traci Chee achieves with this book is really impressive and I think this is a story that everyone should read or at least learn more about what it is based on. Although it took a little while to wrap my head around the characters and how they were all related to each other, by the end I felt so invested and attached to this group of friends and both cheered and cried with them. Would highly recommend picking up if you're interested!
Was this review helpful?
I finally had the chance to read this book (a whole year later from when I was given it) and I absolutely loved it. The poetry-like prose, the hard-hitting stories of each character, and the story this book was telling, in general. It's an important for every young adult across America and I hope that generations get to grow up with this in curriculum somehow.
Was this review helpful?
Such an inspirational and realistic setting that takes readers back to world war 2 and the struggles Asian-Americans faced!!! A raw vulnerability was found that made me wish for for as I got to the last page!
Was this review helpful?
Thoughts and Themes: I had been meaning to read this book for a while but I knew I had to listen to it on audio otherwise I wouldn’t be able to keep up with the story. Some books are like that for me and listening to audio makes it easier to follow along. I’m glad that I finally got the chance to listen to this one though because it is a well-told story.

I had heard about the history of Japanese internment camps briefly during my high school years but it was something mentioned and then never discussed. I had found young adult historical fiction to be a great way to learn more about historical events that I otherwise would not know about. This book was beautifully written and has so many moments that I had to pause to really take in the story that is being told.

Something that I liked about this book is that it is focused on their lives in the internment camps but also shows their struggles as teenagers. You get to see these characters rebelling against their parents, figuring out who they are, and falling in love. I like that each of the characters are asking themselves similar questions and how they are all questioning what “free” really means. I also like the commentary that this book makes about the way Americans were treating Japanese people in this time and how these teenagers were struggling with how they were viewed. Many times the characters point out that they are treated as criminals and being insistent to themselves that this is not what or who they are.

Characters: There are several characters included throughout this book as you are slowly introduced to each of them through the 14 perspectives given. In each section, you get introduced to the main character of that chapter but also to the others that this character interacts with. I think the multiple character was a part that was complicated for me. I really wanted to learn more about each of the characters but as the chapter ended and you feel like okay I know them a little, you suddenly were in a different character’s world. While each of these characters is living in the same places, with similar events happening around them, they each have their own take on these events.

Something that I really enjoyed about each of these characters was the friendships that they had with each other. I liked how you saw their friendships begin during their time in San Francisco and how that friendship only grows stronger when they are taken from their homes. I liked seeing how they relied on each other for strength and support while they live in the internment camps, and how they never lose sight of each other.

Writing Style: This story is told from the perspective of 14 different teenagers who are living in the Japanese internment camps. At times the story is told in the first person, the third person, and occasionally it goes into the second person. I really liked the shift in different persons and felt that this really added to the way you see each of the characters.

When I first started this book I was worried that I would get confused with all the different perspectives that are shared throughout this book. I was even more worried as I was listening to it on audio and trying to follow along with the e-book. I was glad to have all the different perspectives though and thought the way it transitions between each character was well-done.

This story also includes newsletter clippings or other fliers that were passing through that time. What I loved about the audiobook is that it would read these pieces to you, it was hard for me to read them on e-book because of the small font so I was glad to have them read to me. I think that these pieces also add to the story because through each perspective you are seeing their daily lives but these pieces move the story to the next character. These clips add to the transition between each of the characters and allow the reader to connect each of the stories.
Was this review helpful?
This book was so amazing! I had a lot of fun handselling it over the winter holidays. Great historical fiction and I can't wait to see what Traci Chee writes next. She is an author to watch.
Was this review helpful?
I loved this novel and can not wait to adapt to my curriculum for next year! I am excited for the students to see new voices and stories in literature.
Was this review helpful?
We Are Not Free follows a group of Japanese-American friends as their world is turned upside down after the bombing of Pearl Harbor.  This book captures, through multiple perspectives a part of American history that is shameful and has been hidden.  A must read for young adults and adults alike.
Was this review helpful?
Well done Knocked my socks off. Terrific writing sucked me into the story. The internment camps and the citizens of the United States were so compelling, and I shudder to think this happened less than 80 years ago
Was this review helpful?
We Are Not Free by Traci Chee is an emotional story about a group of second generation Japanese-American teens from San Francisco and how their lives are upended by WWII and the forced incarceration of Japanese-Americans following the attack on Pearl Harbor.  This book follows the group through each teen's own points of view throughout making for an interesting and emotionally impactful style of reading.  After we leave one teen's point of view and another one is introduced, we are still able to follow the group through their various connections and letters.  

While some may find the shifting view points and narration styles a little difficult to adjust to, for me personally, it really intensified my emotional connection to the characters to see and read about each of them through so many varying points of view.  It also made for a unique format due to the various types of narrators as some read as straight narration, some are in verse, some include letters, and there are also pictures showing some of the places mentioned in the book.  I think the format will draw in reluctant readers and make the 400+ page book seem not as intimidating for those readers.  This book is an important ones for teens to read as it shows a part of US history that is mainly "glossed" over in classrooms.  When I was in school (20 years ago) I remember only briefly learning about the incarceration of Japanese-Americans with many of the issues they faced being completely left out.  After reading this book and George Takei's They Called Us Enemy I can see how important not just for our history these stories are but also for things going on in the United States as it is today.  This book will not only help readers better understand this time in history but how those effects are still felt today.  It will spark a lot of discussion and important conversations for not just teens, but also adult readers as well.  I would recommend this book to those who enjoyed George Takei's book or those with an interest in historical fiction, though the writing style feels more contemporary so it will appeal to many types of fiction readers as well.
Was this review helpful?
I normally don't read historical fiction, but this one seemed so interesting and got so much buzz! I was lucky enough to win it during YALLWest's online festival, and finally got around to reading it last weekend. The story is moving, and the characters are all super accessible for it to be historical. It's a fascinating novel for sure!
Was this review helpful?
I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect when I went into this book since this is Traci Chee’s first work of historical fiction and her previous work was epic fantasy. Mostly I was just expecting it to be stellar, and indeed it was.

One of the things I praised The Reader for was innovative storytelling techniques, and that strength of Chee’s carries over into We Are Not Free. Juggling fourteen different points of view is no small task, and Chee executes this with grace and creativity. The story spans about three years total and chronologically follows a different character for each chapter/section of the book as various events and developments occur, from the initial order to leave San Francisco to the homecoming. While most chapters utilize first person narration, there is one chapter that deviates and uses second person, as well as another chapter that is not from one perspective but rather the combined perspectives of all of the characters.

Although all but one of the points of view are written in first person, they don’t blend together or get repetitive. Each viewpoint is constructed in a way that highlights the distinctive qualities of every character. Each chapter builds on the previous ones and adds a layer to the painting, deepening the portrayals of all of the characters, not just the one who’s speaking. Every character has a different reaction to the experience of incarceration and their thoughts and feelings and the personalities that inform them are built into the narration. Some are written like journal entries, others styled as letters to another character, and one even takes the form of poetry/verse. These stylistic shifts serve to disorient and reorient the readers like a turning kaleidoscope.

What makes this story so great is the expansive and diverse emotional landscapes painted in these fourteen points of view, individually and taken together. They are complex and dynamic, ranging from optimism, to resolve, to resentment, to fury, to numbness, and beyond. The writing deftly conveys the rawness of the injustice and trauma these young people are facing.

Dark as the circumstances may be, this story does not succumb to nihilism. The characters work to establish a new normal and support network in the face of immense upheaval. Their deep love for one another and their families comprises the core of this book. As Yum-Yum says, “We are not free. But we are not alone.” Against the odds, they carve out a space for resistance, hope, and even joy–together, as a community.

Interspersed throughout the chapters are photos, illustrations, correspondences, news articles, and so on–some drawing from real archival sources, others fabricated for the purpose of the book–documenting Japanese American incarceration through a visual medium that helps further immerse readers in the time period. I personally love when books are crafted to enrich the reader experience beyond the prose; the added texture brings another dimension to the story.

If I had to pick favorites among the viewpoint characters, it would be Frankie and Minnow. Frankie spends most of his chapter blazing in incandescent rage at his situation, with no outlet for catharsis. This resonated with my memories of my own teen years. Of course, I was not subjected to the violence of incarceration, but I did feel the weight of racism and mistreatment from society, and I definitely lashed out in anger because I didn’t know how to process my emotions constructively. These similarities between us made Frankie’s character all the more real and compelling for me.

Then there’s Minnow, who has the special status of narrating two chapters, the first and the last, whose perspective bookends the story. He is one of the youngest of the group, forced to grow up too much, too soon, and his sensitivity and artist’s eye imbue the story with a delicate, aching sentimentality that lingers even after you’ve turned the last page.

The TL;DR version: We Are Not Free is a gorgeously written masterpiece of fiction that makes a painful but still relevant history accessible to young people.

Content/trigger warnings: racism (including anti-Japanese slurs), physical assault, torture, war, death, grief
Was this review helpful?
Absolutely impressive, nuanced account of America's concentration camps during the period around Japanese internment during WW2. The use of multiple perspectives in an interconnected group of teenaged friends and their siblings, while at time is a touch difficult to follow (I could have used a slightly more descriptive character list at the beginning), I found this exactly this historical fiction that will not only help teens empathize as they see themselves in the characters who are both enduring persecution and also just living life as teens, but also gain a greater understanding of why Asian people have become the "model minority" as a survival strategy.
Was this review helpful?
In this National Book Award finalist, tells the story of fourteen Japanese Nisei teens who have grown up in San Francisco’s Japantown during their incarceration during World War II. Well-written and researched, this book makes clear what happened. So many Japanese are reticent to talk about their time in the camps, I am glad Chee wrote this book.
Was this review helpful?
This was a fantastic but difficult read. I did struggle to find a sense of cohesion and continuity, and I wish that we got to see more of certain characters. The book's structure tended to make me care for a character, and then rip them away for a new POV, which was clearly the point, but made it difficult for me to stay engaged at times.
Nevertheless, I think this is a great and important read, and I will be recommending it.
Was this review helpful?