Book Review: We Are Not Free by Traci Chee || an impactful historical fiction revolving around discrimination, friendships and loss during WWII

News of the day (week? month?) – I’ve found a new book to obsess over.

This review was supposed to be written the way all my other reviews are written – a day or two after I finish the book. This time, it’s been around two weeks since I finished reading, but I kept putting off writing this review, probably because I needed time to recover, to mend from the emotional wreck this beautifully written novel made of me. The healing is still in process, but I can’t let that stop me from screaming about this amazing read to you guys! (it’s less of a review and more of a call-out: come suffer with me)

Title: We Are Not Free
Author: Traci Chee
Genre: Young Adult Historical Fiction

Synopsis:
“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. 

We Are Not Free is a historical fiction set during World War II in America. The story begins just after the bombing of the Pearl Harbour by the Japanese airforce, following which there is hatred and racism against the people of Japanese ancestry living in America. Anti-Japanese sentiments are at an all time high, and this leads to the creation of the policy that people of Japanese descent, including U.S. citizens, would be incarcerated in isolated camps, for no fault of theirs except for looking the way they do.

The most, though not the only, exceptional thing about this story was the execution. Sure, a lot of us know the history, some more than others. But it takes amazing masterful ability to weave history, to narrate it, without subtracting the brutalities and complexities, in a way that has a lasting impact on the reader, and Chee did just that.

“Is this what life is like? People coming together and drifting apart, coming together and drifting apart, over and over until there’s no one left?”

The book is narrated by a group of fourteen young Nisei (second-generation Japanese American citizens) who are among the thousands uprooted from their homes and placed in incarceration camps because of their Japanese ancestry.

When I heard that there were 14 POVs, I was naturally intimidated, but I realize now that needn’t have been. We get one chapter from each character’s point-of-view, some longer than others, but each more heartfelt than the last. All our 14 main characters are Japanese-American youngsters – the youngest being Minnow who is 14 and the eldest being Mas, 22. When I’d just begun reading the book, I was sure I’d have a hard time keeping up with all the povs, but boy was I wrong. 14 POVs made it a whole lot easier to connect with the characters, to see life through their eyes.

Each chapter, each POV was unique in its own way, and this brought out the individuality of each of the characters in a beautiful manner. Every character reacts in his/her own way to this drastic change in their lives – some choosing to be optimists, while others resorting to violence – and this was portrayed beautifully by their respective POVs. Sure, all 14 of them are a tight-knit community (whose friendship is just 🥺), but each has their own aspirations and conflicts. No two chapters were written in the same style, and rightly so, for each had to depict a different personality – and I can only imagine the effort this might have taken the author to accomplish. Traci Chee has my utmost respect.

This was one of those books that progressively get better as they go, with each chapter better than the previous ones (I have a sneaking suspicion Chee was saving the best ones for the end). Speaking of which. Those last few chapters were not written in words, they were emotions – pure, raw emotions scrawled on the pages. If I got teary eyed though the middle of the story, I was full on bawling towards the end.

Such powerful and heavy topics are dealt with in this novel, albeit in a way that doesn’t make them seem out-of-reach or too much to grasp, instead it made all the prejudices, racial discrimination, violence against the Japanese feel real. I as the reader flinched every time one of our characters was a victim to the atrocities, verbal or physical, of narrow minded people — from when Minnow got jumped by a gang of American teens to when a man refused to sell Yuki icecream because she was Japanese, to countless other racist actions that take place throughout the story.

The story’s meaningful and heart-wrenching take on discrimination is something that I am not likely to forget soon, and I’m grateful that books like these exist to give today’s generation a brutal reminder of the mistakes made by humanity in the past, which continue to have consequences in the present.

“We’re standing on a street corner with everything we’ve ever known about to come crashing down around us.
And we’re angry.
And we’re smiling.
And we aren’t broken.”

Overall, We Are Not Free was hopeful, heartbreaking and devastating all at once. I’d highly recommend this to all of you, especially to fans of The Outsiders, The Book Thief and The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas.

Have you read We Are Not Free? What did you think (aka did it break you?) Which is your favourite war novel? Let me know in the comments!

Book Review: The House In The Cerulean Sea by T.J. Klune

A home isn’t always the house we live in. It’s also the people we choose to surround ourselves with.

Hello guys! Before we move on, I wanted to tell you that we have reached 150 followers!! I’ve probably said this before but I want you all to remember that I’m extremely grateful to all of you and and I feel deeply appreciated whenever any one of you leaves behind a like or a comment on my posts. So a big thank you for that, I love you guys🥰

That brings us to what I am here to do today, which is review The House In The Cerulean Sea. This review is going to be completely spoiler free. (Also, quotes from the book will be all over this post, as you might already have noticed. I think I might have a case of book hangover) Without further ado, let’s get started!

Synopsis (via Goodreads)

A magical island. A dangerous task. A burning secret.

Linus Baker leads a quiet, solitary life. At forty, he lives in a tiny house with a devious cat and his old records. As a Case Worker at the Department in Charge Of Magical Youth, he spends his days overseeing the well-being of children in government-sanctioned orphanages.

When Linus is unexpectedly summoned by Extremely Upper Management he’s given a curious and highly classified assignment: travel to Marsyas Island Orphanage, where six dangerous children reside: a gnome, a sprite, a wyvern, an unidentifiable green blob, a were-Pomeranian, and the Antichrist. Linus must set aside his fears and determine whether or not they’re likely to bring about the end of days.

But the children aren’t the only secret the island keeps. Their caretaker is the charming and enigmatic Arthur Parnassus, who will do anything to keep his wards safe. As Arthur and Linus grow closer, long-held secrets are exposed, and Linus must make a choice: destroy a home or watch the world burn.

An enchanting story, masterfully told, The House in the Cerulean Sea is about the profound experience of discovering an unlikely family in an unexpected place—and realizing that family is yours.

My Rating : ★★★★★ [5 out of 5 stars]
My Review

I have no idea how to begin, so how about this – I. LOVED. THIS. BOOK. Okay, so that was pretty obvious from my rating (when was the last time I gave a book a full 5 stars? hmm, in March I think) but seriously, The House In The Cerulean Sea probably deserves a million stars.

People can present themselves as being one way, and once you’re sure you know them, once you’re sure you’ve found what you’re looking for, they reveal themselves for who they really are.

The beginning was great (so was everything else but we’ll come to that) and the story wasted no time in getting to the point and shipping off Linus (the main character) to the Marsyas orphanage home. So one absolutely cannot complain about a slow beginning here.

Life, Linus Baker knew, came down to what we made from it. It was about the choices, both big and small.

The characters were just perfect. Linus was amazing, right from the beginning and even more so towards the end, and of course I loved each and every one of the children and their quirky personalities. Arthur and Zoe were so well written too. And might I add that Linus’s character development (not that there was anything wrong with him before, but you know) was the best I have EVER seen?

But even if you have bad dreams, you must remember they’re only that: dreams. You will always wake from them. And they will fade, eventually. I’ve found that waking from a bad dream brings a sense of relief unlike anything else in the world.

Among other things, I loved the dry humour which was quite prevalent in the first half of the book. Then of course, there was the found family trope (yes, found family!!) which was executed oh so beautifully, and once again proved my point that found family is the best trope to ever exist and that I’ll never ever get tired of it.

The things we fear the most are often the things we should fear the least. It’s irrational, but it’s what makes us human. And if we are able to conquer these fears, then there is nothing we’re not capable of.

Okay, so I am not even going to go into the regular stuff like the pacing, the writing style etc, because this book is just too good for any of that to be used to judge it. Everything about this book was so adorable and sweet and wholesome and just…beautiful🥺 and it definitely felt like a warm hug that goes right down to your soul. While reading this, I spent half of my time trying to swallow the lump in my throat, the other half smiling through my tears. The children, my precious lovelies, made me cry so many times with their sweet words to Linus. The story tugged at my heartstrings and gave me all the feels.

The world likes to see things in black and white, in moral and immoral. But there is gray in between. And just because a person is capable of wickedness, doesn’t mean they will act upon it.

So basically the whole point of my review is to say this – The House In The Cerulean Sea is a masterpiece. It made me feel all warm and fluffy and happy from the inside, something that no book has made me feel on such a large scale ever before. I have got no more words to describe how exquisite this entire story was.

“Smile and maybe tomorrow,” Arthur whispered in his ear. “You’ll see the sun come shining through for you.”

Found family? Check. Slow burn? Check. The best-est book ever? Check.

Sometimes, he thought to himself in a house in a cerulean sea, you were able to choose the life you wanted. And if you were of the lucky sort, sometimes that life chose you back.

Hidden Gems! // Under-hyped Books Which Deserve More Love

Hiya everyone! Today I bring you the third post in the series of themed recommendations that I have been doing on my blog since last week (read the first post here and the second one here in case you missed them!) Today’s theme is underrated or underhyped books which are favourites of mine.

I constantly keep bugging all of you to read Six Of Crows (in a very non-threatening way, of course😉) but I have realized of late that I don’t need to. 8 out of every 10 people I find on Goodreads have read (and loved, mostly) this duology. Similar is the case with so many books – Percy Jackson, Harry Potter, The Lunar Chronicles(I haven’t read this yet eek!), Hunger Games and countless more that we hear spoken about everyday in the bookish community. But what about all those books which are in no way lesser than these hot shots, but due to some reason are hardly ever mentioned in this blogosphere, or in the bookish community in general? There are so many hidden gems out there which definitely deserve much more hype than they get. So today I am going to be recommending you some amazing books which are unfortunately on the lowest rung of the ladder of “status in the bookish society”. Click on the cover images to add the books to your Goodreads TBR!

Nevermoor: The Trials Of Morrigan Crow by Jessica Townsend

Of course this HAD to be on the top of this list! Nevermoor was one of my favourite reads in 2020, and it breaks my heart to see how so few really talk about it. All the characters were just *chef’s kiss* and it was endearing to see a child rejected by all (including her own father and step mother) because she was supposedly cursed and then later finding her place in Nevermoor. And Jupiter might just be the best fictional character ever written.

Malamander by Thomas Taylor

Why haven’t more people discovered this amazing book yet? It might be the only book written in first person POV that I have enjoyed so far. The main character, Herbie, was so simple yet so complicated, oblivious yet witty. You can read my full review of Malamander here.

The Wave by Morton Rhue

The Wave is a contemporary historical fiction based on a true event. It is a quick read, but it is truly thought-provoking and a must-read if you’re interested in history (like me!) blended with some high school drama.

The Flame Of Olympus by Kate O’Hearn

This was kinda like Percy Jackson set in a more contemporary world! There were redemptions, new friendships and so much more in this middle grade novel based on Roman mythology.

The Miracle On Ebenezer Street by Catherine Doyle

This is under-hyped on an epic level – only about 300 ratings on Goodreads! It was one of those warm (uhh metaphorically of course, its set during Christmas lol) and fluffy books you’d want to hug (does that sound weird 🙃) and will definitely cheer you up.

The Finisher by David Baldacci

I realize that this is probably the first time I am speaking about this book on my blog, but it use to be quite a favourite of mine when I bought and read the entire series. The Finisher is the first book in the four-book Vega Jane series, a dystopian fantasy that fans of Divergent and alike would probably enjoy.

And we are done for today! Hopefully your TBR got a little bigger!

Let’s Chat!

Have you read any of these books? Which is your favourite underrated/underhyped book? Let me know in the comments!

P.S. I am sorry if I am being a little boring nowadays, school’s really got to me and I think I may have began experiencing blogging burn-out. Hopefully I’ll be back to writing my normal *fun* posts soon!