Displacement – written and illustrated by Kiku Hughes

  Displacement – written and illustrated by Kiku Hughes, First Second, 9781250193544, 2020 

Rating: 1-5 (5 is an excellent or a Starred review) 4

Format: Hardcover

Genre: Graphic novel

What did you like about the book?  In this semi-autobiographical memoir/time travel story, Kiku is an eye-rolling teen, trudging behind her mom, earbuds in place, as they explore San Francisco. Her mom is Japanese-American and Kiku is mixed race, but neither have a strong connection to their heritage. During a snooze while mom explores a mall now standing in place of their ancestral home, Kiku experiences her first “displacement” and drifts back to her grandmother’s violin recital, set just before the Japanese internment. Subsequent spells actually send her into the camps where she spends years, in close physical proximity to her teenaged grandma Ernestina, but never meeting her. Kiku adjusts to her new life, making some friends and enduring tremendous hardship. Along the way, readers will learn about the horrible conditions in the camp and the lives of young people who resisted their unjust treatment. I found the colorful artwork engaging, with its realistic depictions of camp life and occasional scrapbook elements. A recurring motif — aerial views of the encampment using oppressive dark shapes and muddy colors — reinforce the despair experienced by those living within. Hughes uses Kiku’s “displacements” to compare and contrast Japanese internment with the current plight of Muslin refugees in the U.S., vilified and barred by President Trump’s policies. 

Anything you didn’t like about it? I didn’t buy the time travel part of the story. Spoiler alert — at the end of the novel, after Kiku has returned, it turns out her mom also experienced displacement as a teen and hypothesizes that it’s some kind of ethnic, generational trauma. I understand that it’s all a metaphor, but time travel is tricky stuff and you have to provide a lot of answers for it to work (ala Octavia Butler’s 1979 masterpiece Kindred). Kiku does wonder why she’s being pulled back to Ernestina’s story, but we never get an answer. I would have preferred to hear Ernestina’s own version of the events, without Kiku as a conduit.

To whom would you recommend this book?  Those interested in the Japanese experience during WWII and who have already read They Called Us Enemy (George Takei, 2019).  Takei’s book does a masterful job of examining both the circumstances surrounding forced relocation and the day-to-day horrors and indignities of camp life, through a child’s eyes. 

Who should buy this book? Middle, high school and public libraries.

Where would you shelve it? Graphic novels.

Should we (librarians/readers) put this on the top of our “to read” piles?

Reviewer: Susan Harari, Keefe Library, Boston Latin School, Boston, MA

Date of review: October 2, 2020

This entry was posted in *Book Review, Autobiography, Graphic biography, Graphic non-fiction, Japanese Internment, Kiku Hughes, Memoir, Time-travel, World War II and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.