Review of Displacement

by Kiku Hughes; illus. by the author
Middle School, High School    First Second/Roaring Brook    288 pp.    g
8/20    978-1-250-19354-4    $24.99
Paper ed.  978-1-250-19353-7    $17.99

This graphic novel blends historical fact and science fiction into an enthralling time-travel tale. An imagined version of debut author Hughes’s teenage self is suddenly “displaced” to her late grandmother’s youth during World War II, following her grandmother’s family as they are forced from San Francisco first to the nearby Tanforan Assembly Center, then to Utah’s Topaz Relocation Center. The skillful illustrations, with muted colors and drab backgrounds, emphasize the degradations of prison life (constant surveillance, shoddy housing) and the efforts people took to make it livable (gardens, dances). Hughes successfully employs her own family history, along with characters and story lines beyond it, to show the emotional conflicts Japanese Americans experienced. She also explores how the memories of those emotional struggles contributed to hidden generational trauma: a roommate speaks up about the rights of Japanese Americans at the prison camp yet shames Kiku’s request to learn the Japanese language; the inmates experience fear over a loyalty questionnaire; they face uncertainty about restarting lives from scratch after the camps are closed. The story draws parallels to current events and encourages readers to remember and recontextualize this painful part of American history. Back matter includes an author’s note, photos, glossary, and reading list. Pair with George Takei’s They Called Us Enemy (rev. 9/19).

From the September/October 2020 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Michelle Lee

Michelle Lee is a young adult librarian for the New York Public Library.

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