A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Traci Chee's We Are Not Free won a 2021 Michael J. Printz Honor for young adult literature. It's a powerful historical novel told from 14 characters' perspectives, and revolves around the racism, injustice, and the mass incarceration and forced removal of Japanese Americans during World War II. The author's note at the end of the story says we should use the term incarceration camps rather than internment camps. It also includes additional resources for more information about this shameful period in American history. Racial slurs include "Jap," and "nip." Characters often get into fistfights, and one dies while fighting overseas, while another is shot and killed while playing with his dog at the incarceration camp. Strong language includes variations of "s--t," "f--k," "bitch," "ass," "bastard," goddamn," and "hell." There are also a few instances of underage drinking and mentions of sake, spiked punch, and cigarettes.
What's the story?
Set during March 1942 and March 1945, WE ARE NOT FREE follows a tight-knit group of 14 second-generation Japanese American teens whose lives are forever changed when they're forcefully removed from Japantown, San Francisco, during WWII. Although the teens do all they can to stay together, a government questionnaire testing their loyalty to America tears the group apart, with some sent to another incarceration camp while others choose to join the Army or resettle in different parts of the country.
Is it any good?
This heart-wrenching tale powerfully depicts Japanese Americans' resilience during World War II, making it a must-read for teens. Choosing to tell the story from 14 perspectives could be overwhelming, but author Traci Chee seamlessly weaves their stories together while giving her chapters distinct voices and styles. Readers will form a deep connection with these well-developed characters and feel their pain, anger, sadness, and regret as well as their pride, hope, and love for one another. A timely reminder at the end of We Are Not Free reminds us that history will repeat itself if we aren't careful.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about historical fiction. What kinds of details show that We Are Not Free is taking place in a different time from our own? What do you like about reading historical novels?
One of the characters says, "It'll happen again, if we're not careful." What can you do to prevent history from repeating itself?
What role did mass media play in making incarceration seem reasonable? How has media changed since World War II? How can you tell whether a media source is reliable?
- Author: Traci Chee
- Genre: Historical Fiction
- Topics: Brothers and Sisters, Friendship, Great Boy Role Models, Great Girl Role Models, History
- Book type: Fiction
- Publisher: HMH Books for Young Readers
- Publication date: September 1, 2020
- Publisher's recommended age(s): 12 - 18
- Number of pages: 400
- Available on: Nook, Audiobook (unabridged), Hardback, iBooks, Kindle
- Award: ALA Best and Notable Books
- Last updated: January 25, 2021
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