August 11, 2021 7:34 AM EDT

Moving between the voices of 14 Japanese American teenagers during World War II, We Are Not Free, a 2020 National Book Award finalist, is a haunting portrait of survival and strength. The chapters vary in style—one particularly stunning account is told in verse—but all flow together to showcase the bonds of a friend group from San Francisco. Together they navigate the turbulence and disruption caused by the imprisonment of Japanese Americans in the 1940s. The characters’ voices are distinct—the crushing destruction of their lives, that comes in waves big and small, is specific to each—but all are written with urgency and feeling. Traci Chee’s gutting narrative, also a Michael L. Printz Honor recipient, is unafraid in its mission to explore racial trauma, and does so in engrossing prose. —Annabel Gutterman

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