They Called Us Enemy

Top Shelf Productions. Jul. 2019. 208p. pap. $19.99. ISBN 9781603094504.
Gr 7 Up–In the wake of the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor, 120,000 Japanese Americans were rounded up, incarcerated in camps, and stripped of freedoms in the name of national security. Among them was future television star and political activist Takei, who as a child was imprisoned along with his family by the U.S. government. Takei, joined by writers Eisinger and Scott, tells a powerful, somewhat nonlinear story spanning 80 years of U.S. history, starting right after Executive Order 9066 was enacted in 1942. The Takeis quickly lost everything they couldn’t carry with them and were treated as criminals, but they persevered and eventually made it out of the camps. As the narrative draws to a close, the writing team strategically refers to the imprisonment of children at the U.S. southern border, the Supreme Court ruling Trump v. Hawaii (which upheld the “Muslim travel ban”), and President Barack Obama’s inaugural address, calling upon readers to ensure that history does not repeat itself. Becker’s grayscale art makes heavy use of patterned hatching to add focused textural intrigue but also casts the individuals in a shadow that reflects what became of their lives. Japanese, used minimally throughout the text, is presented in italics, with translations denoted by an asterisk, though there is at least one occurrence of untranslated Japanese. There is infrequent cursing and violence.
VERDICT This evocative memoir shares stories of the nation’s past, draws heartbreaking parallels to the present, and serves as a cautionary tale for the future. For all readers old enough to understand the importance of our collective history.

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