“We’re already fighting a battle out there. Why will we have to combat one in our personal usa too?” wonders Minoru “Minnow” Ito, a Japanese American teenager living in San Francisco at some stage in World War II. He’s one of the 14 characters whose tale Traci Chee tells in We Are Not Free, a charming portrait of teens whose studies have been shared by using over 100,000 humans of Japanese ancestry who were pressured to live in inhumane incarceration camps during the battle.
The subject matter is a departure for the New York Times bestselling Chee, whose acclaimed debut novel, The Reader, kicked off an epic fantasy journey trilogy that concluded with 2018’s The Storyteller. But it’s also a deeply personal one, stimulated through the studies of her grandparents and their families; the e-book’s title comes from words spoken through her great-aunt at some stage in her incarceration.
We Are Not Free is a lively however sobering saga that starts in March 1942, just earlier than the forced elimination of Japanese Americans from their houses began, and continues thru March 1945 as numerous characters go back to their much-modified neighborhoods, in which lives and livelihoods were destroyed and racism remains rampant. The grand sweep of the novel permits her to discover the wide range of conditions that Japanese Americans faced at some stage in this time: pressured resettlement, loyalty pledges with hidden consequences and navy service that frequently included unjust treatment.
Chee’s 14 narrators hail from 9 different families and encompass Minnow, who loves to draw; lively, rebellious Twitchy; college pupil Mas; softball-loving Yuki; and Frankie, who “always seems like he’s spoiling for a fight.” The connections and relationships among these teenagers form the heart and soul of the novel, and their yearnings, heartbreaks, worry and anger ring real on every unmarried page. A “individual registry” at the beginning of the ebook facilitates readers keep track of the sprawling cast, though readers may find themselves every now and then wishing they could follow a few characters greater closely. Even so, what Chee sacrifices in depth, she makes up for in breadth, rewarding readers with an tremendous portrait of a network scarred via prejudice, intolerance and racism.
Whether she is describing Yuki’s dismay at a store owner’s refusal to serve her and her teammates ice cream or portraying the horrors Twitchy faces on the battlefield in France and Italy, Chee is an exceedingly gifted creator whose words right here have a searing intensity. Though her e book is packed with ancient detail, her characters and their interactions sparkle with energy, while their reports remain all-too-timely. One person warns, “It’ll happen again, if we’re not careful.” We Are Not Free is a wonderful addition to the works of literature that chronicle this shameful bankruptcy of American records.
ALSO IN BOOKPAGE: Author Traci Chee shares her private connection to the history she depicts in We Are Not Free.