We Are Not Free by Traci Chee
Publisher: Clarion Books
Copyright Date: 2020
Reading Age: 12 and up
Reading Level: Grades 6-9
Awards: Michael L. Printz Honor Book, Walter Honor Book
Genre: Young Adult Fiction
Subgenre: Historical Fiction
After Pearl Harbor, the United States government sent over 100,000 people of Japanese ancestry to incarceration camps. This is the story of 14 teens who grew up together in Japantown, San Francisco only to be evicted from their homes and forced into these camps. While racism and hate strive to pull them apart, these friends will fight to stay connected in a world that would prefer to separate them, shove them into desolate environments, and forget them.
The United States is still coming to terms with its treatment of Japanese Americans during World War II. In fact, some deny that the incarceration of over 100,000 people based on their ancestry even happened. We Are Not Free focuses on 14 teens who grew up together and bounces back and forth from those 14 different points of view. While bouncing between this many characters might at first seem challenging for readers, the fast pace and differences between the friends made it easy to follow the narrative. In fact, each character is so compelling, it can leave the reader wishing for more chapters. The fact that the prose is also quickly paced and and changes helps with the upsetting aspects of life in an incarceration camp. Offering up the different viewpoints also means that readers get to experience the struggles and heartbreak of a collection of people who went through something horrifying, having their sense of safety and permanence stripped away because of racism and fear. It is a good examination for teens who may not have much experience putting themselves in other people's shoes. Between 14 choices, all of them interesting, any reader should find at least one character they empathize with. This is also a part of our history as Americans that is not as discussed in history class, so adding this novel to the library helps to address this situation. Prisoners in the camps lived in fear, knowing that they could be shot if a soldier interpreted their actions a certain way. Risk was a part of daily life, but the people in the camps still strove for any sense of normalcy, having sock hops and sporting events. It will give readers insight into what it was like to be imprisoned for years on end, waiting for a war to end and their names to be cleared.
14 teens who have grown up together in Japantown, San Francisco are suddenly evicted from their homes and sent to internment camps because of their ancestry.
About the Author
Traci Chee is a best-selling and award-winning author of books for young people, including the instant New York Times best seller and Kirkus Prize Finalist The Reader and Printz Honor Book, Walter Award Honoree, and National Book Award Finalist We Are Not Free. Her forthcoming title is A Thousand Steps into Night, a Japanese-influenced young adult fantasy.
When she isn’t writing, she enjoys hiking, egg painting, bonsai gardening, and hosting game nights for family and friends. She lives in California with her fast dog.
(About the author and image can be found here.)
Talk about the Japanese internment camps of World War II.
We Are Not Free has 14 different point of view characters. Discuss how the varied POVs impacted the story.
Challenge issues: underage drinking, smoking, violence, strong language
Challenge Issue Resources:
Nevada County Library Selection Policy
Selection of materials is based upon a number of criteria that include:
The Library selects materials in accordance with the guidelines stated by the American Library Association in its Library Bill of Rights, and Freedom to Read Statement and Freedom to View Statements.
The Library supports diversity of expression and views in its collection in an attempt to provide patrons with a foundation for making informed decisions and formulating personal opinions. The Library does not exclude items because of the race, nationality, social, political, or religious views of the authors. The presence of controversial materials in the collection does not represent the Library’s endorsement of the opinions expressed therein. Although some materials selected may contain language and/or illustrations that may be offensive to some patrons, the Library cannot undertake the task of pleasing all individuals by censoring such items.
Active Listening Skills
Staff should listen calmly to the patron’s concerns without judgement or commentary. They should acknowledge the public’s right to challenge materials and help the patron find an alternative item that will fit their needs.
Nevada County Library Reconsideration form
Any citizen may challenge materials. If the citizen chooses to submit a written Request for Reconsideration of Library Materials, Library staff will collect reviews and accumulate data on how the material conforms to the selection policy. An ad hoc review committee consisting of the Library Director, Branch Manager, one other librarian, and a citizen appointed at the discretion of the Library Director will review the material, judge whether it conforms to the Selection Policy and submit its report in writing to the Nevada County Board of Supervisors. Concerned parties will be notified of the final decision in writing.
ALA Strategies and Tips for Dealing with Challenges to Library Materials
ALA Bill of Rights on Intellectual Freedom
The American Library Association affirms that all libraries are forums for information and ideas, and that the following basic policies should guide their services.
80 years later, the United States is still coming to terms with the choice to imprison thousands of American citizens based on their ancestry. That mass eviction and the incarceration that followed had long-term effects on the people and descendants of those involved. This book tells the story through the eyes of 14 different characters, building empathy as the reader sees things through their perspectives.