They Called Us Enemy
Illustrated by Harmony Becker
Top Shelf Productions
Published July 16, 2019
About They Called Us Enemy
A graphic memoir recounting actor/author/activist George Takei’s childhood imprisoned within American concentration camps during World War II. Experience the forces that shaped an American icon — and America itself.
Long before George Takei braved new frontiers in Star Trek, he woke up as a four-year-old boy to find his own birth country at war with his father’s — and their entire family forced from their home into an uncertain future.
In 1942, at the order of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, every person of Japanese descent on the west coast was rounded up and shipped to one of ten “relocation centers,” hundreds or thousands of miles from home, where they would be held for years under armed guard.
They Called Us Enemy is Takei’s firsthand account of those years behind barbed wire, the joys and terrors of growing up under legalized racism, his mother’s hard choices, his father’s faith in democracy, and the way those experiences planted the seeds for his astonishing future.
I’d heard of this book before, but it was mentioned again in George Takei’s biography in MORE AWESOME ASIAN AMERICANS, a book featuring 20 biographies of Asian Americans. I discovered my library had an electronic copy, so I checked it out and read it in one sitting.
The illustrator, Harmony Becker, did an amazing job focusing each panel in on the most critical elements. There are lots of panels that at first glance seemed very simple, but as I looked at them longer, I noticed how the illustrations often drew my eye to important features.
I also thought the balance between the illustrations and the stories was expertly done. The combination felt much larger than the sum of its parts. I found so many moments deeply moving.
The story bounces back and forth between Takei’s childhood, showing his experiences with his family, and then a more present-day version of himself, reflecting back on those days or speaking to an audience about his experiences.
The story also does a great job delivering personal moments as well as the historical events that impacted George Takei and his family. I loved the way that he spoke about his father throughout the book. I loved his admiration for his dad and the treasure of the lessons he learned from him.
All that is not to say the book is without shocking or hard moments. The reality of what he and 160,000 others endured was and is terrible. I think the authors did a wonderful job speaking truth in an engaging way, great for a young audience. I found the story deeply moving and inspiring, perfect for late elementary or middle school readers.
Content Notes for They Called Us Enemy
Recommended for Ages 10 to 14.
Major characters are Japanese American.
Profanity/Crude Language Content
Mild profanity used a couple times.
References to marriage.
Reference to a Buddhist faith leader being incarcerated.
References to and descriptions of racist behavior toward Japanese Americans. Some panels show soldiers carrying guns.
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