George Takei is known for his role as Hikaru Sulu in Star Trek and for his passionate commitment to civil rights. After the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Takei and his family—along with over 100,000 Japanese Americans—were imprisoned in internment camps for the rest of World War II. Their crime? They were Japanese. They Called Us Enemy portrays Takei’s family’s experiences in the camps and the impact they had on his life. The result is a compelling and powerful narrative that lays bare the continuing prejudice, injustice, and passion in America.

Takei and his co-writers, Justin Eisinger and Steven Scott, have developed an engaging and relevant narrative. The story goes back and forth between the World War II era and contemporary times as it traces Takei’s family’s experience in the internment camps and his career as an actor and activist. The authors also provide accessible explanations of the political forces and factions at play, but it’s the personal story that drives home Takei’s points. Takei narrates his family’s experience from the perspective of an adult who has come to understand what happened, yet goes on to show how this experience and his family’s support have helped him in his career as an actor and activist. The mix of the past and the present with the personal and the political gives the story a balance between sad and hopeful. Takei also draws connections between the Japanese internment camps and the cruel treatment of immigrant children at the border, thus sending an important message about injustice and the importance of action in a democracy.

Illustrator Harmony Becker’s black and white illustrations both capture key historical events and figures as well as the emotional impact of Takei’s experiences. The illustrations portray historical figures in recognizable ways, yet the particular strength of Becker’s work lies in the emotional impact her work carries. Deceptively simple with strong manga influences, Becker’s illustrations portray the difficulties of Takei’s family and a child’s youthful exuberance and innocence with equal aplomb; the illustrations work well with Takei’s reflections, contributing to the surreal and painful mood that arises from the contrast between a child’s experience with an adult’s understanding of the injustice.

They Called Us Enemy is a powerful work that, thanks to its important message, the discussion of historical events, and Takei’s popularity, should find a readership in both public and academic libraries. The book explains the internment camps and themes of injustice and activism in a way that should be accessible to a range of ages. There are a couple of violent scenes (portrayed with minimal gore), and there are some difficult topics whose subtle presentation might go over the head of very young readers; therefore, this reviewer would recommend early middle school and up as the audience for They Called Us Enemy.

They Called Us Enemy
By George Takei Justin Eisinger Steven Scott
Art by Harmony Becker
ISBN: 9781603094504
Top Shelf Productions, 2019

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  • Megan

    | She/Her

    Features Writer

    Megan earned her MLIS from Simmons College and is currently the evening librarian at Bay State College in Massachusetts. She satisfies her voracious appetite for graphic novels and manga through regular visits to her local public libraries and puts her love of graphic novels to good use by adding to Bay State’s collection whenever possible. Megan maintains a personal blog, Ferret with a Strobe Light, where she discusses awesome books she’s read lately. When not engaged in reading or library work, she likes running, drinking tea, and working on her own stories and art.

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