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They Called Us Enemy

Book review by
Michael Berry, Common Sense Media
They Called Us Enemy Book Poster Image
Powerful graphic memoir of actor's internment as a child.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

They Called Us Enemy tells George Takei's personal story of World War II internment in the United States. It offers the opportunity to discuss the politics of the time and how they may have changed since then. It also touches on themes of personal honor, activism, and reconciliation.

Positive Messages

Even in the face of wartime hysteria, people find ways to live their lives with dignity. People need to stand up for what they believe, even in the face of great adversity.

Positive Role Models & Representations

George's parents work hard to ensure the family's safety when they are shipped to the camps. Their father builds a sense of community among the internees and becomes a trusted mentor. Their mother sees to the children's physical and emotional needs. George grows up to be an inspiration for gay and straight Asian American actors and activists.

Violence

Set during wartime, They Called Us Enemy includes scenes of violence. Japanese families are removed from their homes at gunpoint. Soldiers fire upon protestors and activists. Various factions among the internees engage in fistfights.

Sex
Language

A very light sprinkling of realistic uses of "hell" and "damn." Older boys trick George and his brother into shouting words that sound like "son of a bitch."

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that They Called Us Enemy is a graphic memoir of actor and author George Takei's experience in the Japanese internment camps during World War II, written with collaborators Justin Eisinger and Steven Scotti and illustrated by Harmony Becker. It portrays the racist actions of the U.S. government and how Takei's family responded to them. Takei would achieve worldwide recognition as Sulu on TV's Star Trek. Some wartime violence, including gunshots, fistfights, and families taken from their homes at gunpoint. Rare use of "hell" and "damn."

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What's the story?

At the start of THEY CALLED US ENEMY, 4-year-old George Takei awakes to hear that his father's country of birth -- Japan -- is at war with the United States. The family is soon uprooted from their home in Los Angeles and taken to a detention camp in Nebraska, leaving almost all of their possessions behind. George and his younger brother Henry adjust to their new circumstances, only gradually coming to grips with the racism and injustice of their situation. Their parents struggle to keep them safe, but also stick to their long-held beliefs of what it means to be an American citizen. As an adult, Takei earns an important role as Sulu on Star Trek, which later gives him the opportunity to educate people about the internment program, as well as fight for LGBTQ rights.

Is it any good?

This powerful graphic memoir expertly captures the heartbreak of America's Japanese internment camps during World War II and the resilience of those who experienced them. In They Called Us Enemy, George Takei and his collaborators tell a story rich in historical detail and personal triumph. Much of the narrative is from a child's viewpoint, increasing the impact of the story as George and his brother Henry struggle to understand events that leave adults overwhelmed. As an adult, Takei found fame and fortune, but this book makes it clear that his memories of the trauma are never far away. The injustice that occurred more than seven decades ago has left permanent marks on its victims.

Harmony Becker's black-and-white,  manga-influenced illustrations give the sometimes grim narrative a shot of good-humored buoyancy. They Called Us Enemy will appeal to a wide range of readers, from Star Trek fans to history buffs to anyone looking for a well-told tale of wartime struggles.  

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the wartime attitudes and actions shown in They Called Us Enemy. Why was there so much hysteria  in the wake of Pearl Harbor? Could a similar situation happen today?

  • George's father refuses to shake hands with Eleanor Roosevelt, wife of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who ordered the internment of residents of Japanese heritage. How should you treat someone who's  committed a great wrong against the members of your race?

  • What role did mass media play in making internment seem reasonable? How has media changed since World War II? How can you tell whether a media source is reliable?

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