Regular price: $17.99
Publisher: First Second
Format: Hardcover / Paperback
Reviewer: Melissa on August 14, 2020
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Several months ago, I requested Displacement by Kiku Hughes for review primarily because it was about the Japanese-American incarceration camps during WWII. If you know me in real life, you probably know that my brother-in-law is Japanese and my nephew is half-Japanese, so even though no one in my brother-in-law’s family went through this experience, I still appreciate finding stories about Issei and Nissei, or first and second generation Japanese, people, which I can eventually share with them. I’ve read other prose novels before, which followed this experience, like The War Outside by Monica Hesse, but seeing that this graphic novel was an own voices story really piqued my interest even further.
What I didn’t realize when I picked up Displacement was that the main character, also named Kiku Hughes, actually lives in Seattle in June 2016, not the 1940s. During a trip with her mom to San Francisco, she finds herself suddenly swept away in time to the 1940s before her great grandparents and her grandmother, Ernestina, were taken to the Japanese incarceration camps. When she returns home, she thought she’d be safe from the displacements. However, as Donald Trump says, from the Republican National Convention, that he’s “going to build a great border wall” and “make America great again,” Kiku finds herself displaced, once more, alongside her ancestors as they’re forcibly taken to the Tanforan Assembly Center and, eventually, to the Topaz Relocation Center in Central Utah. Kiku Hughes brilliantly frames the story of the Japanese incarceration camps with the recent history of Donald Trump’s Republican party campaign and his presidential executive orders that effect the lives and safety of both Latinx and Muslim communities in the United States. This recent and ongoing history in the US will be readily familiar to the teen audience of this book, and will inevitably, be a way for them to immediately connect the atrocities that are currently happening with that of the incarceration camps during WWII.
Many young people and adult readers of YA who pick up this graphic novel may have learned that Japanese-Americans were placed in incarceration camps during WWII. However, the few lines in their American history textbooks will certainly not give a detailed picture of what young teens, like Ernestina or Kiku, experienced in the camps. In fact, even Kiku knew very little about what happened to her grandmother before she winds up at Tanforan and Topaz as a result of her displacements. This means that whether or not readers know much about the Japanese incarceration camps before they pick up Displacement, they will be able to follow along, learning what it was like right alongside Kiku and developing true empathy for the wrongs perpetuated by Americans to their Japanese-American counterparts. At the same time, the author beautifully demonstrates the impact of inter-generational trauma and how it can be, somewhat, healed through the redemptive power of memory. Moreover, since Displacement is framed with ongoing nationalist attacks against Muslim and Latinx-Americans, the author demonstrates how collective memories of trauma can induce a powerful and poignant will in those who have experienced them to say, “never again” and fight for the rights of other minority groups whenever they are singled out by the vocal majority.
Beyond the narrative that Kiku Hughes presents to her readers, there were many beautiful and subtle hints in the artwork that could easily signal to readers where they were in time. In the present moment, the colours are richer and offer a larger colour palette, including reds, blues, vibrant greens, golds, yellows, peaches, teals, browns, greys, pinks, beiges, black, and white. In contrast, the past was always in a more restricted colour palette, much like the type of restricted life that Kiku, her family, and her friends in the camp experienced. Most of the colours in the 1940s world, from the landscape to the clothing the characters wear, were limited to browns, greys, whites, blacks, teals, and peaches. This is true except when the past is being shown through the lens of a photograph or a drawing, which is distinguished by rendering it in a monochromatic palette. In addition, whenever Kiku finds herself moving either backward or forward in time, it is signaled either in graphic form by a white breeze or a dust cloud and/or in sonic form by a bar of music floating through the air that she hears. In these ways and probably many others, the author and illustrator, Kiku Hughes, offers her readers panels that are just as worthy of a close reading as the narrative itself is.
As an own voices graphic novel, the characters, both named and unnamed, are primarily of Japanese ancestry, although there are a few characters, like Donald Trump, who represent a different element. In addition, however, there are a couple of named queer characters as well with romantic elements, even though this part of the storyline is not the main focus. Again, this is an own voices aspect to the narrative. If you’re looking for a new, diverse read to add to your TBR, then Displacement will certainly fit the bill.
While Kiku Hughes presents a great deal of information about the Japanese incarceration camps, please don’t assume that this will be a boring history lesson. I think it’s impossible to not be moved by the mix of fictional and nonfictional realities that she depicts in Displacement. At the same, the author purposefully omits certain perspectives, except through the interpretations of other people, as a means to represent the inter-generational trauma that both Kiku and her mother suffered as a result of the incarceration of their grandmother and mother, respectively. Thus, while the book offers a satisfying beginning, middle, and end, there’s always room for interested readers to do further research about the incarceration camps themselves and to listen to additional first person stories of the events as they happened at Topaz and other camps throughout the US.
Displacement is a graphic novel that you will breeze though, but the story inside will wrap itself around you and never let you go. It had me teary-eyed at several points while I was reading it, and kept me thinking about the real and fictional characters depicted within it for several days after I’d finished. However, it also filled me with hope that there are people in the Nikkei community in both the United States and Canada who understand the pain of these kinds of atrocities, and therefore, will do everything in their power to spread knowledge of what our countries have done and to stop it from happening to other groups in the future.
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