Cover Image: We Are Not Free

We Are Not Free

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Member Reviews

I enjoyed Chee's Sea of Ink and Gold trilogy, but was not prepared for how beautiful and well-crafted her move into historical fiction would be! I loved the depth and breadth with which she discussed the Japanese-American experience before and after, but especially during, WWII: the narrative includes moments of joy and friendship and beauty, but doesn't whitewash or shy away from the terrible and often very specifically related realities of the history. The way Chee makes all of the choices by various characters, even when they should be in opposition to each other, so emotionally comprehensible was impressive. The characters also felt so believably like one friend group whose lives were interwoven, and it felt particularly realistic that many of them were also struggling with unrelated issues like domestic violence/related trauma or sexuality, even while in a terrible situation.

Although I did enjoy each character's perspective and thought that they often brought something to the particular events or themes discussed (e.g. Bette and her optimism were an interesting match to the early days of internment) I also found that the POV-hopping made it a little difficult to keep the characters straight, and somewhat prevented feeling a deep attachment to many of them - they felt extremely well-sketched, but perhaps not fully drawn? - and their stories. This felt especially true for some of the earlier characters; by the time later chapters came along, I think I had a bit of a better handle on who everyone was, but it meant that the "moment" with certain characters had already passed. Also - and this isn't a criticism! - I'd love to hear more from the author about her choice to include two fairly stylized perspectives (second person, and story-in-verse) along with the others and what about that sort of writing spoke to her in terms of those particular characters.

Certainly possible to pair with recent, award-winning nonfiction like George Takei's graphic memoir The Called Us Enemy, or Enemy Child by Andrea Warren, but perhaps also recommend to those who have also appreciated historical fiction like Tanita S. Davis's Mare's War or Lovely War by Julie Berry, or who enjoy novels where multiple perspectives are key, such as A.S. King's Dig.
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This might now be my favorite book of the year. I'm going to have to read everything written by Traci Chee.

This YA novel is about the incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II. The story is told through multiple perspectives, a group of teenagers who lived in the same neighborhood in San Francisco. I appreciate that they each have individual voices - I never lost track of who's perspective I was reading. Just the fact that there were so many - 14 different character perspectives - that is worthy of high praise. But not just that, each character was written with so much emotion and personality. They each had a unique perspective to bring to the story.

I felt so immersed in their stories, I laughed, I cried, I raged with them at the injustices they suffered. This book was phenomenal and important reading and I can't recommend it enough.
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Wow. This is one of the most moving, impactful books I’ve read in awhile. Chee takes a history that is terrible in and of itself and makes it personal and heartbreaking through her wide cast of characters. The constantly shifting perspectives, 14 in total, did take some time to get used to, and it made some of the characters hard to keep track of. However, by the end, I was absolutely invested in them all.

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/49934666-we-are-not-free
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Absolutely love this book. Being such a clear picture of what life was for Japanese Americans at this time. Easy to empathize with characters – who are all very defined and likable. Really well written, interesting book.
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A story everyone needs to read.  It’s not an easy one to read but it’s a history I never really knew, and I hate that.  I did struggle a bit with the POV changes and choppy timeline.  Still, worth the read.
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This book—this BOOK—is a stunning historical fiction about fourteen teens, whose lives become interconnected during World War II, but this is not your normal war story. For one, these teens are Japanese and facing a bleak future as the country they were born and raised in has decided to label them the enemy and forced them into an incarceration camp. Told from multiple perspectives from 1942-1945, this book is absolutely gutwrenching as it explores Japanese identity, familial loyalty, and the harsh reality for Japanese-Americans during WWII. 

"We Are Not Free" starts by focusing on three brothers: Minnow is the youngest and an artist while Shig is carefree and then there's Mas, who is hardworking and smart. The story starts with Minnow as he walks home and gets attacked by a group of white guys. It is clear that after Pearl Harbor, the average American became distrustful of the Japanese-Americans, who became further ostracized from society. Eventually, the family receives the Civilian Exclusion Order No. 41 to leave behind their home, sell all their possessions, and travel to Tanforan Assembly Center. As the story progresses, it grows to encompass their brothers and their close friends, who become family as they navigate the incarceration camps. 

Earlier this year, I read George Takei's "They Called Us Enemy" and was incredibly moved by how difficult it must be and still is for Japanese-Americans to forge their identity, especially in a time when the country they live in incarcerates them as foreign enemies. The stigma of the perpetual foreigner stereotype is manifested in the incarceration camps and Chee does a wonderful job of exploring how it fractures and affects her characters' identities in different ways; some want to prove themselves as true Americans, others want to accept their new label, and others are indifferent. This is a must-read to understand how America has alienated and segregated its minority citizens in the past and its consequences on the future. 

All I can say is thank you, Traci Chee, for preserving and writing this story and for sharing your family's experiences in this wonderful book.
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It had everything. A captivating plot the whole way through. A wonderful cast of characters that were well-developed and diverse. A message that is both educating and timely. And own voices. This needs to be on the list.
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This book was powerful and carries incredibly important messages regarding racism. Given the state of our country right now, it is definitely a relevant read. But this also makes this a difficult, uncomfortable read. If you are looking for a feel good story, this is not it. But it is clear hat Traci Chee feels passionate about this topic and the book appears to be well researched. I personally found the cast of characters a little too much, but enjoyed how the stories wove together through the different perspectives.
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Painful, gorgeous, exquisite. The story of fourteen different teenagers who were incarcerated due to EO 9066 (enacted February 1942, three months after the Pearl Harbor bombing) is a painful, heartbreaking, and exquisite read. Chee’s writing is gorgeous, and each character has a chapter (except Minnow. Minnow opens and closes the book), and you are distinctly in each character’s head. It’s not easy to write a multiple point of view novel, but Chee excels. A must-read for everyone.
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wow, what a completely stunning and heartbreaking novel about a history we don’t learn enough about. i absolutely adored every page of this and every character. i felt so completely immersed in this group of friends, and my heart cheered and broke for them. truly, this is a novel that feels like an instant classic of the YA category, and i would love to see it taught in schools one day. it comes out this september, and i highly recommend picking it up!

read via an advance copy from hmh
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This is a topic in history that is not covered as often as it should be. I truly believe that many schools would benefit in including this novel as required reading. 

I was floored by how much I loved this book as I do not normally read historical novels. I adored the way this was formatted between the multiple perspectives. Each kid had their own unique pov of the circumstances they faced. I loved the inclusion of sibling interaction which I feel are never quite showcased well enough in the YA I have read in the past. I know teens reading this book will definitely be able to identify with one of the characters if not more. Personally for me I loved and identified with Bette. 

I also really loved how the novel was book ended. I probably would buy this book for my own personal collection. I loved Traci's writing so much I might check out her other novels. 

The only thing that slowed me down was Twitchy's chapter being bogged down by description, but I understood him as a character by that point that it worked as to why it was told that way. 

Overall I could tell this topic is deeply important to the author and to be recognized as a part of history told from perspectives that teens will empathize with.
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Definitely a must-read for teens.  This is. a book I will add to my classroom library and suggest as a literature circle choice in our sophomore curriculum.
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This would be a wonderful work of historical fiction to use alongside some non-fiction, such as George Takei's "They Called Us Enemy". I had a difficult time reading this, not because it was poorly done, but because I got so frustrated with the racism and injustice depicted throughout. I think Chee also did an excellent job at showing many different experiences within the same circumstances, allowing readers to see that Japanese-Americans reacted to this in various ways.
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This book about Japanese Incarceration during World War 2 is a must read to gain perspective of what those Japanese Americans went through during that time. The book takes the perspective of 14 different teenagers as they lived through this time in history. The way that each teenager responds to their situations varies, but the one thing they all share is their connection to each other.
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I recieved a free copy from netgalley in exchange for an honest review.  We are not free is a book that will stay with you.  The entire story is powerful but the ending really hits you.  We are not free tells the story of a part of American history that isn't known.  As a history major and now teacher, I know more about this than most Americans but that isn't saying a lot because there isn't enough literature both nonfiction and fiction about the Japanese internment camps or as the author points out in her author's note the Japanese American Citizens League says "incarceration" and "forced removal".  I don't what to get into how we as American try to brush under all of the bad in our past, but considering that as I write this review right now, we have children locked in cages it seems really important to state the obvious.  Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.  The story is told from the perspectives of 14 teens and young adults as they survive the horrifying conditions and treatment by the US government.  While I won't be teaching world or us history next year, I will definitely have a copy of this book in my classroom.  I think that every student needs to be aware of this part of our history and that it is important that more people of color tell their stories.
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We Are Not Free is a wonderful story of friends who experienced being relocated to internment camps during World War II. Each of the characters share their feelings and experiences during their interment. Several of the boys/young men choose to join the service and fight for their country.  Even though the country does not think of these young men  as Americans these young men still see themselves as american. This is a sad and turbulent journey through each characters personal experience. I really enjoyed this story and I think you will too! I was moved by the commitment of friendship among these young people. They maintained that strong bond even when separated by being sent to different camps. These are rich characters who you will grow to care about as you read.
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Very powerful look at life in a Japanese internment camp: the hatred of the locals (early in the book, Chinese were holding signs saying they were Chinese, not Japanese), the deprivation, the sense of bewilderment as to why they were considered a threat.  If I were teaching Farewell to Manzanar or They Called Us Enemy, this would be a fiction version for students to see how closely the author followed the real experience.

eARC provided by publisher.
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I was intrigued by this book. Fourteen different POVs from people with all different problems except for one: the racism that got them where they were. This book was very good. It provided what I know to be historically accurate outcomes, made me feel for the characters, and more. This book was sad and unfortunate, but it's a very good read. I cried a little bit towards the end of the book. I loved how the stories weaved together to create a bond between every character.
I would recommend this book to people who like historical fiction, but also others. I don't love historical fiction, but this was worth the read and I thought it was really good. This book points out the racism during World War II, the aspect people sometimes forget, and Traci Chee did an amazing job doing so.
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This is a powerful look into how the imprisonment of Japanese Americans during World War II affected their lives.  Chee has 14 narrators, connected by the neighborhood where they lived before being sent to camps, present different stories of their lives during internment.  The stories give a much better, more complete look at how devastating this decision by the United States government was for the Americans living it.  For me, I read this closely on the heels of George Takei's graphic novel of his experiences so I had a pretty direct comparison between the two.  At first I was going to say that I enjoyed the graphic novel more since they cover nearly all the same topics, but upon more reflection I feel that the two are good companion pieces.  There are parts of this novel I might not have understood as well without the introduction from Takei's book.  Conversely, there were parts of the other book that were covered too quickly in the graphic novel format that I am better able to understand now thanks to Chee's storytelling.  My only real complaint about this book is Twitchy's chapter about the battles in which he fought.  Too much wartime description for too long for me.
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This is a remarkably well written book. The characters are so bright and vibrant in their joy, anger, and even despair as they face the realities of their country waging a war against them. The author does a great job balancing the brutal reality of this period of history with the hopeful moments that really humanize these characters. This group of friends is so real it’s easy to see how they could be your friends or neighbors. The writing made me laugh out loud, gave me chills, and brought tears to my eyes. It was captivating and thought provoking. The themes of what it means to be an American and what it means to be a family were excellently threaded through all the characters experiences. 

I also appreciate how great this book is as both a narrative of these young characters lives and a teaching tool for a period of time that is often glossed over in history classes. The age range of the characters is also very well done and widens the range of appeal to readers. I think this would be a great book for more mature middle grade readers through college level students matching the age range of the main characters and the personal experiences they face during the book.
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