We Are Not Free

Book review by
Amanda Nojadera, Common Sense Media
We Are Not Free Book Poster Image
Powerful tale of Japanese American resilience during WWII.

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Kids say

age 12+
Based on 1 review

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

Educational Value

Readers will learn about racism, injustice, and the mass incarceration and forced removal of Japanese Americans during WWII. Historical documents and photographs are included between each chapter, and there are additional resources at the end of the book for more information about this shameful period in American history.

Positive Messages

Resilience, family, friendship, and hope are important themes. Fight against racism and injustice and do everything you can to prevent history from repeating itself.

Positive Role Models & Representations

The characters have their flaws, but they are strong, resilient, and love one another. Diverse characters include Japanese and Japanese American characters, one African American character, and one gay character.

Violence

The story revolves around racism, injustice, and the mass incarceration and forced removal of Japanese Americans during WWII. Racial slurs include "Jap," "Nip," and "boy." Characters often get into fistfights, and one dies while fighting overseas, and another is shot and killed while playing with his dog at the incarceration camp. 

Sex

Characters kiss.

Language

Racial slurs include "Jap," "Nip," and "boy." Strong language includes variations of "s--t," "f--k," "bitch," "ass," "bastard," goddamn," and "hell."

Consumerism

Characters are only allowed to bring one suitcase to the incarceration camps and must sell the rest of their belongings.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

A few instances of underage drinking and mentions of sake, spiked punch, and cigarettes.

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.

User Reviews

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  • Kids say

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Kid, 11 years old March 6, 2021

Great book for older tweens

This book deals with freedom and love it has some swearing.

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?

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love historical fiction

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