We Are Not Free

This book is beautifully and uniquely written. It was educational and taught me things I didn't know or expect from our American government. Most characters had depth and on top of the situation they were put in, a lot had difficult home lives.

We Are Not Free, a historical fiction book written by Traci Chee. This book follows the story of 14 Japanese teenagers in World War II. Each perspective is unique and shows each teenager's hardships following into the war. After the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the American government – led by Franklin Roosevelt – sent any Japanese family, even if they were registered as citizens, to camps, to prevent any “terrorism.”

The way Chee writes some of these characters is raw and empowering. Yuki, for example, is written as a 16-year-old-girl who struggles with her ethnicity because she does not fully understand why she should be treated any less for her culture and nationality because she is a person too. She is young, yet cynical, and has a love for softball and for her team. She learned from her teenage years that she had to be grown and mature.

A character that seemed to dull out the seriousness of the situation the Japanese were in was Bette. Bette is presented in the story as care-free, optimistic, and hopelessly romantic. She goes to the camp seeming happy, and while her cheerfulness isn't a bad thing, it comes to the point of daftness, which is especially presented in her romantic interests. She becomes so over-obsessive with boys that it takes away from the educational part of the story that I'm sur the author was originally trying to capture. I think Bette was written as a character to show that the Japanese teens put into these camps still had a right to be a teenager, but the way the author executed it made Bette seem two-dimensional.

The thing I would change in this book is how Minnow was written. Nearing the end of the story, Minnow admits that he had feelings for another character: Twitchy, a man. The problem I have with this is that it seemed so sudden. As a member of the LGBTQ+ community I see this a lot in TV shows and books: suddenly a character that has feelings for another character of the same sex. And it usually always happens so suddenly that it does not seem genuine. I feel the author, since she was putting so much detail in the story already, could have shown this more subtly before he admits his feeling. Either by another character noticing he is staring at Twitchy and blushing, or by Minnow writing him a heartfelt letter while he went away, etc. There were a lot better ways to execute this, but I still feel heard within the representation.

What I would like to ask the author is: How did you feel about this book? Mainly because the way I looked at this book was at an educational level. While it was historical fiction, it surprised me with facts and events that occurred to the Japanese. And since it was mainly looking from the eyes of teens, it was very interesting to read every character's unique perspective.

This book has further made me more educated to what happened in World War II, and I feel it should be ready by any Japanese teen needing a voice, or any YA historical fiction lover.


McCall-Donnelly High School

McCall-Donnelly High School Writers

Students reading and responding to great YA novels


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