cover image We Are Not Free

We Are Not Free

Traci Chee. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $17.99 (400p) ISBN 978-0-358-13143-4

Spanning three years, from March 1942 to March 1945, Chee’s accomplished novel about America’s treatment of Japanese Americans is told by 14 Nisei teenagers who have grown up together in San Francisco’s Japantown. The book traces their varied trajectories, beginning with their initial deportation to a nearby incarceration camp, then a second move to the more developed compound of Topaz City, Utah, where prisoners are forced to pledge loyalty to the U.S. or to Japan through a questionnaire, and “No-Nos”—those who refuse U.S. allegiance and military service—are deported to yet another camp. Inspired by Chee’s family history, the book powerfully depicts, as an author’s note states, “a mere fraction of what this generation went through.” Varying between first-, second-, and third-person narration; letters and verse; and even one chapter told by “all of us,” each interconnected story has a distinct voice (a provided “Character Registry” is useful for keeping track of the many characters and relationships). The individual tales are well crafted and emotionally compelling, and they resolve into an elegant arc. Ambitious in scope and complexity, this is an essential contribution to the understanding of the wide-ranging experiences impacting people of Japanese ancestry in the U.S. during WWII. Ages 12–up. [em]Agent: Barbara Poelle, Irene Goodman Agency. (Sept.) [/em]