book review – we are not free by traci chee

i received a review copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. all opinions below are my own.

this blog post is part of the we are not free blog tour, organized by colored pages bookish tours.

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a little note from chloe: it’s been a while since i last posted, because i have been busy preparing for my final year of high school, which began last tuesday! from now until early may 2021, i will be solely dedicating this platform to posting book reviews and boosting marginalized authors. also, please note that i am not an #ownvoices reviewer for this book. please don’t forget to read and support #ownvoices book creators and reviewers. ❤


We Are Not Free

We Are Not Free by Traci Chee

Rating: 5 out of 5.

“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.”

From New York Times best-selling and acclaimed author Traci Chee comes We Are Not Free, 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.

trigger warnings: racism (slurs, hate crimes), death, bloodshed, war
representation: japanese american, gay

world war ii is an important part of every history curriculum – we are all taught about the allied powers and the axis powers, the bombings, the gunshots, and sometimes, about the suffering as well. how many people, however, have heard of the japanese american internment camps, and knew the stories of the people who lived there?

in the centre there’s a drawing of a japanese soldier with diagonal slits for eyes, nostrils like watermelon seeds, and two big square teeth jutting out over his lower lip. i’m not a great artist or anything, but i’m a better artist than that. when i draw the people in my neighborhood, i draw them with eyes like crescent moons and kindness and red bean cakes split down the center, i draw them with real noses and regular-size teeth.

we are not free by traci chee

in this powerful, heartbreaking novel, traci chee writes about fourteen japanese american teenagers who, after the bombing of pearl harbor, are forced to move into internment camps. i always find multiple povs really overwhelming, but traci chee did a really good job at developing the characters so that they all have distinct personalities and voices, and it was not difficult at all to keep up with them. it was incredible reading from all their perspectives and see the story progress from so many different points of view.

outside is the camp, the barbed wire, the guard towers, the city, the country that hates us. but in here, we are together.

we are not free by traci chee

the characters’ friendship reminds me of a quote i once saw on pinterest – “best friends are always together, never apart. maybe in distance, but never at heart.” far from their homes in california, they stick together, clinging close to their hopes, fears, ambitions and love for each other. through ups and downs, despite having differing political views (those who pledge “yes-yes” and those who answer “no-no” on their loyalty questionnaire), and with some going away to battle and moving away, the characters still think of each other and write to each other constantly. it’s clear that their friendship means a lot to them all, which i found really heartwarming.

we are not free is a emotional tale based on the author’s own family history and that of many other japanese american families, recollections of a little-known but important piece of history, and a masterpiece of a book which should be on everyone’s bookshelves. if you decide to pick it up (which you should, by the way), have tissues ready and be prepared to shed lots of tears.


Traci Chee

Traci Chee is an author of YA fiction. 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.


have you read we are not free? what were your thoughts? let me know in the comments below ❤

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