We Are Not Free by Traci Chee Book Review

Author Information

Traci Chee is a New York Times best-selling author and National Book Award Finalist. An all-around word geek, she loves book arts and art books, poetry and paper crafts, though she also dabbles at bonsai gardening, egg painting, and hosting potluck game nights for family and friends. She studied literature and creative writing at UC Santa Cruz and earned a master of arts degree from San Francisco State University. Traci grew up in a small town with more cows than people, and now feels most at home in the mountains, scaling switchbacks and happening upon hidden highland lakes. She lives in California with her fast-fast dog.

Book Description

“All around me, my friends are talking, joking, laughing. Outside is the camp, the barbed wire, the guard towers, the city, the country that hates us.

We are not free.
But we are not alone.” 

We Are Not Free, is the collective account of a tight-knit group of young Nisei, second-generation Japanese American citizens, whose lives are irrevocably changed by the mass U.S. incarcerations of World War II.

Fourteen teens who have grown up together in Japantown, San Francisco.
Fourteen teens who form a community and a family, as interconnected as they are conflicted.
Fourteen teens whose lives are turned upside down when over 100,000 people of Japanese ancestry are removed from their homes and forced into desolate incarceration camps.
In a world that seems determined to hate them, these young Nisei must rally together as racism and injustice threaten to pull them apart.


Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for the advanced copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Thoughts and Themes: I had been meaning to read this book for a while but I knew I had to listen to it on audio otherwise I wouldn’t be able to keep up with the story. Some books are like that for me and listening to audio makes it easier to follow along. I’m glad that I finally got the chance to listen to this one though because it is a well told story.

I had heard about the history of Japanese internment camps briefly during my high school years but it was something mentioned and then never discussed. I had found young adult historical fiction to be a great way to learn more about historical events that I otherwise would not know about. This book was beautifully written and has so many moments that I had to pause to really take in the story that is being told.

Something that I liked about this book is that it is focused on their lives in the internment camps but also shows their struggles as teenagers. You get to see these characters rebelling against their parents, figuring out who they are, and falling in love. I like that each of the characters are asking themselves similar questions and how they are all questioning what “free” really means. I also like the commentary that this book makes about the way Americans were treating Japanese people in this time and how these teenagers were struggling with how they were viewed. Many times the characters point out that they are treated as criminals and being insistent to themselves that this is not what or who they are.

Characters: There are several characters included throughout this book as you are slowly introduced to each of them through the 14 perspectives given. In each section you get introduced to the main character of that chapter but also to the others that this character interacts with. I think the multiple characters was a part that was complicated for me. I really wanted to learn more about each of the characters but as the chapter ended and you feel like okay I know them a little, you suddenly were in a different character’s world. While each of these characters are living in the same places, with similar events happening around them, they each have their own take on these events.

Something that I really enjoyed about each of these characters was the friendships that they had with each other. I liked how you saw their friendships begin during their time in San Francisco and how that friendship only grows stronger when they are taken from their homes. I liked seeing how they relied on each other for strength and support while they live in the internment camps, and how they never lose sight of each other.

Writing Style: This story is told through the perspective of 14 different teenagers who are living in the Japanese internment camps. At times the story is told in first person, third person, and occasionally it goes into second person. I really liked the shift in different persons and felt that this really added to the way you see each of the characters.

When I first started this book I was worried that I would get confused with all the different perspectives that are shared throughout this book. I was even more worried as I was listening to it on audio and trying to follow along with the e-book. I was glad to have all the different perspectives though and thought the way it transitions between each character was well-done.

This story also includes newsletter clippings or other fliers that were passing through that time. What I loved about the audio book is that it would read these pieces to you, it was hard for me to read them on e-book because of the small font so I was glad to have them read to me. I think that these pieces also add to the story because through each perspective you are seeing their daily lives but these pieces move the story to the next character. These clips add to the transition between each of the characters and allow the reader to connect each of the stories.

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