Review: Displacement by Kiku Hughes

DISPLACEMENT by Kiku Hughes brings the reader along as the main character time travels through her grandmother’s memories to the United States’ internment of Japanese-Americans after the attack on Pearl Harbor. Based on the author’s own life and her research into familial and historical events, this graphic novel takes a bored, uninterested teen into history and shows her how collective experience and trauma still affects people today. Aimed at readers 12+, the novel will educate, inform and connect history to current events.

The graphic novel follows Kiku, who is bored with her mother’s search for her grandmother’s childhood home in San Francisco. When they discover that a mall has replaced the building, Kiku waits outside as her mother goes inside to take a look around. She is transported, via a sudden fog, to an auditorium in the mid 1930’s where her grandmother (as a child) is playing the violin. Upon returning, she realizes no time has passed in the “present.” The next morning, the time travel happens again, but this time she is in line to be interned with other Issei and Nisei in 1942. Once Kiku and her mother return to Seattle, Kiku believes she is “safe” from additional time displacements, but she’s soon whisked away to the Tanforan Assembly Center and later Topaz Interment Camp over a year’s stay. Kiku learns a lot from the people around here, she makes friends, she feels helpless and frightened, and she is unsure about where she belongs during her time at the camps. The last section of the novel ties her experience together perfectly to the opening scenes with her mother and to the current events in the USA right now.

The author’s illustration style uses simple lines and muted colors even as it conveys strong emotions reflecting the characters’ frustration, hope, helplessness, and resistance. The illustrations help develop characters’ depth via help hands, worried looks, and meaningful glances. I also appreciated the simplicity in depicting the barracks, the work characters did to personalize and make livable their surroundings, and sharing Kiku’s worry over her lack of historical knowledge and making the “correct choice.”

The subtle way Kiku Hughes portrays the worry her characters feel and the relationships they make allow the themes of connection, family history, shared trauma, and a duty to stand up for others to shine through. Several time in the novel, Kiku bemoans her lack of knowledge about the Japanese internment as well as the skewed ideas she has about that time. Understanding the motivation of the “no-no boys” deepens Kiku’s understanding of the multiple ways to resist oppression. In addition, witnessing the divide between the older and more traditional Issei and the first-generation Nisei helps her see some of why Japanese language and traditions were not passed down to her in more than a few foods.

While the last section of DISPLACEMENT is more heavy-handed in emphasizing speaking out and standing up for all those oppressed by biased governmental policies (it reminded me of WHITE BIRD), it still felt natural because the mother and daughter solidarity is very much a believable response to injustice. I think this graphic novel, which can be read quickly and then discussed in sections, will be a fantastic addition to home libraries and classrooms. Highly recommended.

Other issues mentioned to look for: passing as white, generational trauma, the origin of the “model minority” myth, same-sex relationships, passing down cultural history.

About That Unique* Weblog

Adjusting to car culture, dealing with leaving a career I loved, and spouting off along the way. Do The Most Good.
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