We Are Not Free

We Are Not Free
Age Range
Release Date
September 01, 2020
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“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.

Editor review

1 review
We Are Not Free
(Updated: February 04, 2020)
Overall rating
Writing Style
Fourteen friends who grew up together in Japantown, San Francisco find themselves and their families sent off to incarceration camps during WWII. Each of them have their own stories. Stories that show the pain, racism, and fear they feel being uprooted from their homes. But it's also a story with joy, laughter, and the power of friendship.

What worked: This is one powerful, gripping tale of Japanese American teens who find themselves ripped from their homes and sent with their families to harsh incarceration camps after the Pearl Harbor attack. What I loved about this story is it shows the human emotions each of these friends feels being forced to leave everything they know behind. Each character is multi-layered. There's optimistic Hiromi 'Bette' who tries to find some joy in even the bleakest situations. Minnow, who loves to draw subjects around him, including his friends and scenes from the camps. Mas, who tries to look out for all his friends.

There are some intense scenes that don't hold back on the horrific conditions within the camps. Or the blatant racism shown even to those who come back from serving our country. There's one scene where Mas is walking down the street with a Black soldier and a white man bumps him and snarls a hateful word his way.

Mas's reflections...If I go to war for America, if I kill for America, if I support an America that doesn't support me, am I supporting my oppressors? Am I killing their enemies so they can later kill me?

There's some really powerful writing throughout, including Twitchy's tour overseas. The alternating short and long sentences drive home the intensity of war. Readers witness the horrors first hand and the bravery of the 442 Regimental Combat team.

One of the other friends is torn on whether or not he should renounce his citizenship. He sees first hand what happens when those, including his parents, sign no to the allegiance oath that all those who are incarcerated are forced to sign.

Powerful, gripping tale of Japanese American friends forced into WWII incarceration camps. This strong tale shows the importance of remembering the past, but it also shows the power of friendship.
Good Points
1. Powerful, gripping tale of Japanese American friends during WWII internment camps
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