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.

Review

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.

May Wrap Up

I got the chance to read a lot of great books this month and I’m so glad for it. I also know that last year most of my favorite books came out in the second half of the year so I was waiting for those this year.

The Incredibly Dead Pets of Rex Dexter by Aaron Reynolds

I recommend this to those of you who have children who are being introduced to chapter books or are looking for something to read with their kids. This is the perfect book to read with your kids or a great way to introduce a child to chapter books. It’s a great transition from picture books to books with less images.

Girl, Serpent, Thorn by Melissa Bashardoust

I only recently realized how much I love fantasy and sci-fi books. I just rarely read them because it takes me longer to get through them. It takes me a while to get all the characters straight along with getting the lay of their world. I didn’t let that keep me from reading this book though and I am glad for that. This was an original story and I loved that it borrowed from Persian culture which was something I had yet to read about.

The twist in this book is so unexpected and I love how it is done. It adds to the story and makes the characters even more lovable. This is a love story like no other that I have read in the past and I love that it wasn’t about a girl who needed to be rescued but about her rescuing herself and those that she loves.

I recommend this to those of you who enjoy fantasy, are looking for bisexual mcs, want action and adventure, or are looking for a young adult fantasy with a female lead.

From the Desk of Zoe Washington by Janae Marks

I have not read a book about baking yet so this was a nice change. I really liked how the whole book was more complex than just being about Zoe’s baking. I like how it includes her feelings about her dad being in jail and how this complicates her story. I liked how it turned into a story about family and friendship more than just baking. It’s a story about trust, hope, and more.

I recommend this to those of you looking for a book with a black main character and black author. I also think that children ages 11 and up would enjoy this book. Its a great book to introduce racism, injustice and the prison system to middle aged children.

The New One: Painfully True Stories from a Reluctant Dad by Mike Birbiglia

As someone who fears having kids i found Birbiglia’s thoughts prior to having a kid relatable. I thought it was great to see his perspective before and after his kid and how even during that first year of his kids life he was still iffy about having a kid. This book was cute, light and fluffy which I read enjoyed during this time.

This Is My America by Kim Johnson

The reality for Black people is that the America that they live in is not the same America that others know. The reality is that their America looks completely different and at a young age they learn what it means to be Black and live in America. This is the story that Tracy Beaumont wants you to know, she wants you to recognize the difference in the America that her and her family is being forced to grow up in.

This is a beautifully written book that tackles difficult issues that Black people still face all over the U.S. There were moments that I had to put this book down to really take in the impact of a scene or to really let something sit with me. I cried along with Tracy and her family at the moments they were able to breathe a sigh of relief and also at the times where they were living in fear.

Something to Talk About by Meryl Wilsner

What I loved about this book is that it is a slow burn romance so nothing really happens between the two for the majority of the book. I find their back and forth banter and really charming. I actually really enjoy that this book has no sexually explicit material for the majority of the whole book. It really allowed me to focus on Jo and Emma’s stories apart from each other and enjoy it when they came together.

I also really enjoy the way that this book is written. You get to see the story from both Emma and Jo’s perspective. I like how you get to see their inner thoughts at every point of the book as I thought some of those moments were humorous. It also allowed you to feel a lot more tension between the characters and also be angry at how they wouldn’t just get together.

Grown Ups by Emma Jane Unsworth

The book starts off a bit slow and its just a woman’s daily life. Jenny is very immature and you can tell in the way she thinks and her actions. You also get a glimpse of how self-absorbed she is through her obsession with social media. Jenny wants her life to look a certain way to others and when she can no longer fake that ideal life, she starts breaking down.

It feels like your in her head with her and she’s a very nervous person so you feel all of her feelings. By giving you Jenny’s every thought with no filter, its as if you are there with her. This was something that I actually did enjoy. Reading through Jenny’s perspective made other characters stand out and I felt bad that they had to deal with her.

Lobizona by Romina Garber 

When I saw so many people raving about this book I knew that I had to read this book even if I hadn’t given magical realism a try. I knew that I loved fantasy and magical realism was more so people reacting to the magical things as if they were ordinary day things. The idea of magical realism fascinated me and I love the idea that it mixes reality and magic.

What I really enjoyed about this book was how it was about challenging the rules and what it means to deserve to live. I liked the way that it handled that topic both in our world and in the world built by the book. I think this book did a great job bringing the issue of what it means to belong somewhere to the surface.

Hollywood Park by Mikel Jollett

Memoirs are a little difficult to review as I can’t really rate them on their characters or the plot. It isn’t as if those are features that could have been changed in a person’s life. What I can talk about though is the writing style and the way the story is told.

This memoir is split up into four parts each one documenting a different portion of Mike’s life. Each of these different parts is written with a distinguishable tone which is quite enjoyable.

January 2020 Wrap Up

I decided my post regarding what I read for the month and how my challenges are going will be two separate post. My wrap up is more so to let you know what I thought about what I read while my challenges are to let you see how much I got done. January felt like such a long month yet I didn’t get to finish as much books as I had hoped to. Enjoy reading what I thought about the books I got to read this month.

If you’d like to read my full review for any of this books, click on the title and it will take you there.

The Gravity of Us

I’ll admit I wasn’t too sure if I’d like this for so many reasons. One being the reality TV scenes thrown in, especially since those scenes feel choppy and confusing to me. Another was that this book was something I knew nothing about, NASA and a connection to a time that happened before I was born. I gave it a try though because I love LGBTQ+ stories told by own voices and I’m glad I read this.

Overrall it’s a cute story of two boys in love at a complicated time for everyone involved with so much more embedded in the story than the space exploration mission. The complexity of the characters, their relationships, and emotions throughout is really what drew me in.

My Squirrel Days

I had a hard time with this one because I wanted to enjoy it for what it was but I couldn’t get over how this read more like a biography of a fictional character. I’m not sure if that’s just because Ellie’s personality matches Kimmy or if that was not intentional. I found that there were some stories that were hilarious and moments that were ridiculous but then there were others that were just mundane stories.

We Come Apart

I decided to read this book because I wanted to read something quick at the end of 2019 but winded up finishing this in 2020. I’m so glad that I decided to try something new because prose was such a great way to tell this story. I like the way this story discusses issues such as family, friends, domestic violence, and immigration.

The Tenth Girl

I’m so conflicted with my feelings about this book. I listened to it on audio and feel that I should’ve done this with a ebook or physical book. I’m so confused with the last hours of this book. The twists is confusing and I dont know if I like it or hate it but what I know is it confuses me. This one is hard to review without spoiling anything so pardon me if the full review sounds vague.

Love & Other Curses

I really enjoyed the relationships that are shown throughout the book and how they shift. I like seeing the relationship Sam forms over the phone with Linda and then seeing the relationship he has with Tom Swift. I like seeing the difference in the relationships Sam has with older people at the Shang Ri La and the grands and then seeing him interact with his peers.

The Perfect Predator: A Scientist’s Race to Save Her Husband from a Deadly Superbug: A Memoir

I love a good virus book and even better if its a non-fiction book because those are scarier. There’s nothing like the scare that real viruses cause and especially viruses that are drug resistant. I’ve started to listen to my virus books instead of reading the physical book because then I can dwell on each word as I hear them. I find them a lot more fearful and the emotions are stronger if I’m listening to someone tell their story.

The Babysitter’s Coven Book Review

Thank You Penguin Teen and Random House Publishing for the advanced readers copy in exchange for my review.

Summary: Esme has a babysitting club that consists of just her and her friend Janis until the new girl comes to town. She begs to be able to join the babysitting club and fails at her job the first night, so why would she want to even be a babysitter? Does she really care for children? Does she really want to get to know Esme as she claims? Or is there something more to this babysitter’s club than Esme knows?

Thoughts: When I started reading I kept having to pause because of the random TXTing lingo that was included, while I knew what the words meant they just seemed very out of place. I liked how the book had a very 90s theme and tone to it and I think there were some times where modern things were brought into play that took away from that. I wasn’t a big fan of all the time jumping because it made it hard to figure out what time period was this book taking place in.

While this was marketed as a babysitter’s club/buffy the vampieish book I looked past any of that since I’m not familiar with either of those things. I think because I wasn’t familiar and read this book as something new I found it really entertaining. I loved each of the characters and how they developed throughout the story. I liked how their relationships with each other changed and how complex some of those relationships were.

Something I really enjoyed was the last few chapters as the action picks up and you can’t turn away because you need to know what happened. I’m glad this is a series because after that ending I”m left wanting more of this babysitters coven and of the girl’s parents.

I recommend this to those of you who like novice magic in your books or to teens ages 13-16.

You can find this book at Barnes and Nobles or look for it at your local library.