Sunday, August 9, 2020
We Are Not Free by Traci Chee
The result is simply heartbreaking.
I've had a bit of prior reading about internment camps thanks to Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston's writings (FAREWELL TO MANZANAR and THE LEGEND OF FIRE HORSE WOMAN), as well as George Takei's memoirs, where he talked about his own experience in one camp as a child and young man. Chee really captures the surreal and horrific element of these camps, where the prisoners feared for their safety, knowing that they could have their property confiscated or even be shot, but also had in their daily lives theatrical pageants of normality in the form of sock hops and sports games.
I also liked how Chee wrote about war in this book. She doesn't pull back any punches. Something happens towards the end that is truly devastating, and the pain in this book feels authentic and real. I think WE ARE FREE would actually be a great companion to FAREWELL TO MANZANAR, and teachers should consider using it in their curriculums as required reading because it's a lot more accessible than some of Houston's work, and was written specifically for young adults in mind.
I'm giving this a three (more like a three-point-five) rating because WE ARE NOT FREE felt much longer than it needed to be. Fourteen POVs is a lot, and I almost wish the author had just stuck with a few characters for the reader to focus on so we could get to know them better. I felt like every time I was just about to understand what made them tick, there was a POV switch. And while sometimes characters would be seen again through each cycled POV, it felt way less intimate. Some of the POVs also weren't as engaging as others. I think my favorites were Aiko, Minnow, and Twitchy.
I definitely recommend this to anyone who feels fatigued by WWII fiction and thinks they would enjoy a book written from a fresh perspective. WE ARE NOT FREE deftly tackles some really tough subjects, and shows a side of history that I'm sure many people in the U.S. would like to-- but should never-- forget.
Thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy in exchange for an honest review!
3 to 3.5 out of 5 stars
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