We Are Not Free
We Are Not Free

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Annotation: "A beautiful, painful, and necessary work of historical fiction." --Veera Hiranandani, Newbery Honor winning author of The Night Diary
Catalog Number: #239078
Format: Perma-Bound Edition from Publisher's Hardcover
All Formats: Search
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin
Copyright Date: 2020
Edition Date: 2020
Pages: 384 pages
Availability: Available
ISBN: Publisher: 0-358-13143-X Perma-Bound: 0-7804-8673-0
ISBN 13: Publisher: 978-0-358-13143-4 Perma-Bound: 978-0-7804-8673-7
Dewey: Fic
LCCN: 2019029407
Dimensions: 22 cm.
Language: English
Reviews:
Horn Book
Chee follows up her successful fantasy trilogy (The Reader and sequels) with this very different work of historical fiction, drawing on her personal family and cultural history for a story of World War II. Beginning in March 1942, three months after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, fourteen young people -- all but one from San Francisco's Japantown -- chronicle, in interlinked stories, their lives over the course of the next three years. Their first-person, present-tense narratives depict a multiplicity of thoughts, feelings, and experiences, particularly regarding the unjust treatment of Japanese American citizens before, during, and after incarceration in internment camps. The result is slightly disorienting as characters come and go, but the overall effect is nuanced and kaleidoscopic. Gaman is a Japanese word for endurance, a dignified response to adversity; it's a characteristic most of these young adults exhibit in one form or another: "The ability to hold your pain and bitterness inside you and not let them destroy you. To make something beautiful through your anger, or with your anger, and neither erase it nor let it define you. To suffer. And to rage. And to persevere." Various graphic elements connect the story to its historical period (drawings, photographs, maps, postcards, telegrams, and newspaper articles), while the author's note grounds it in Chee's extensive research and family experience.
Kirkus Reviews
Young Japanese Americans tell of life during World War II.In San Francisco’s Japantown, a group of teens has grown up together and become like family. But life in America after the 1941 bombing of Pearl Harbor is dangerous for them. They and their families are taken to the Topaz incarceration camp in Utah, where the harsh conditions and injustices they experience turn their worlds upside down. They draw some comfort in being together—however, a government questionnaire causes rifts: Loyalties are questioned, lines are drawn, and anger spills over, threatening to destroy the bonds that once held them together. The teens are forced apart, some enlisting in the 442nd Regimental Combat Team while the No-Nos (those who refuse to serve in the U.S. military and swear allegiance solely to the U.S. government) are relocated to the Tule Lake camp, and others, whose families passed background checks, are allowed to resettle in locations around the country. This is a compelling and transformative story of a tragic period in American history. Written from the 14 young people’s intertwining points of view, each character fills in a segment of time between 1942 and 1945. The styles vary, including both first- and second-person narration as well as verse and letters. Each voice is powerful, evoking raw emotions of fear, anger, resentment, uncertainty, grief, pride, and love. Historical photographs and documents enhance the text.An unforgettable must-read. (author’s note, further reading, image credits) (Historical fiction. 13-18)
Publishers Weekly
Spanning three years, from March 1942 to March 1945, Chee-s accomplished novel about America-s treatment of Japanese Americans is told by 14 Nisei teenagers who have grown up together in San Francisco-s Japantown. The book traces their varied trajectories, beginning with their initial deportation to a nearby incarceration camp, then a second move to the more developed compound of Topaz City, Utah, where prisoners are forced to pledge loyalty to the U.S. or to Japan through a questionnaire, and -No-Nos--those who refuse U.S. allegiance and military service-are deported to yet another camp. Inspired by Chee-s family history, the book powerfully depicts, as an author-s note states, -a mere fraction of what this generation went through.- Varying between first-, second-, and third-person narration; letters and verse; and even one chapter told by -all of us,- each interconnected story has a distinct voice (a provided -Character Registry- is useful for keeping track of the many characters and relationships). The individual tales are well crafted and emotionally compelling, and they resolve into an elegant arc. Ambitious in scope and complexity, this is an essential contribution to the understanding of the wide-ranging experiences impacting people of Japanese ancestry in the U.S. during WWII. Ages 12-up. Agent: Barbara Poelle, Irene Goodman Agency. (Sept.)
Starred Review for Kirkus Reviews
Young Japanese Americans tell of life during World War II.In San Francisco’s Japantown, a group of teens has grown up together and become like family. But life in America after the 1941 bombing of Pearl Harbor is dangerous for them. They and their families are taken to the Topaz incarceration camp in Utah, where the harsh conditions and injustices they experience turn their worlds upside down. They draw some comfort in being together—however, a government questionnaire causes rifts: Loyalties are questioned, lines are drawn, and anger spills over, threatening to destroy the bonds that once held them together. The teens are forced apart, some enlisting in the 442nd Regimental Combat Team while the No-Nos (those who refuse to serve in the U.S. military and swear allegiance solely to the U.S. government) are relocated to the Tule Lake camp, and others, whose families passed background checks, are allowed to resettle in locations around the country. This is a compelling and transformative story of a tragic period in American history. Written from the 14 young people’s intertwining points of view, each character fills in a segment of time between 1942 and 1945. The styles vary, including both first- and second-person narration as well as verse and letters. Each voice is powerful, evoking raw emotions of fear, anger, resentment, uncertainty, grief, pride, and love. Historical photographs and documents enhance the text.An unforgettable must-read. (author’s note, further reading, image credits) (Historical fiction. 13-18)
Starred Review ALA Booklist
*Starred Review* Chee is a master storyteller, as the Reader trilogy aptly demonstrates. Here, she uses her own San Francisco based Japanese American family's history to inform a blazing and timely indictment of the incarceration of Japanese Americans during WWII. Her passion and personal involvement combine with her storytelling talents to create a remarkable and deeply moving account of the incarceration. The interconnected stories of 14 very different teenage individuals beautifully demonstrate the disintegration of family life in the camps, a phenomenon often addressed in nonfiction accounts but not so well depicted in fiction til now. In a culture where the influence of parents and grandparents was all-important, life behind barbed wire destroyed that dynamic, with peer influence and friendships taking precedence. It's as if S. E. Hinton's The Outsiders met Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston's Farewell to Manzanar. Despite the large cast, Chee's clear chapter headings, vivid characterizations, and lively portrayals of very diverse characters enable readers to easily identify the nonstereotyped teens. Chee also incorporates many different media types: telegrams, newspapers, postcards, drawings, and maps all help to drive and deepen the story. A short but excellent bibliography and thoughtful author's notes round out what should become required curriculum reading on a shameful and relevant chapter in U.S. history.
Reviewing Agencies: - Find Other Reviewed Titles
Starred Review ALA Booklist (4/1/20)
Starred Review for Kirkus Reviews (4/1/20)
Starred Review for Publishers Weekly (4/1/20)
Horn Book
Michael Printz Honor (4/1/20)
Bibliography Index/Note: Includes bibliographical references (page 381).
Word Count: 88,258
Reading Level: 5.5
Interest Level: 7-12
Accelerated Reader: reading level: 5.5 / points: 14.0 / quiz: 509938 / grade: Upper Grades
  • NATIONAL BOOK AWARD FINALIST * PRINTZ HONOR BOOK * WALTER HONOR BOOK * 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.

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