Graphic Novel + Novel Review: Displacement by Kiku Highes and No-No Boy by John Okada

Displacement by Kiku Hughes. First Second, 2020. 9781250193537. 277pp. plus photos of Kiki’s grandmother, a glossary of terms, and a list of books for further reading.

In the present day Kiku, on a walk in San Francisco with her mother to find her grandmother’s childhood home, is displaced to an earlier time where she witness a violin performance by her then-young grandmother. Back in her hotel room Kiku realizes how little she knows about her grandmother’s life. She wants to ask her mom for more information but then President Trump, on the TV, starts talking about keeping Muslims from entering the US, and she feels like it’s not a good time to talk.

She’s displaced in time again the next morning, and again after she returns to Seattle. Back in the 1940s she’s evacuated with those of Japanese ancestry and placed into the same internment camp as her grandmother. She goes to sleep hoping to wake up at home, but instead awakens in the camp. Luckily her roommate helps her adjust. Kiku’s time in the past is depicted realistically, with a mix of awfulness, nice moments, boredom, and injustice. She even has a bit of a romance with another girl, May. And then, just when things seem tolerable and predictable, her life is upended and she is sent off to the Topaz Relocation Center in Utah.

This is a great graphic novel, wonderfully drawn, and personal. I loved that Hughes wasn’t afraid to connect Japanese internment to President Trump’s policies. I look forward to seeing this book on banned book lists everywhere, and I hope that keeps it in print for decades to come.

Without meaning to, I read this right after finishing John Okada’s No-No Boy, which was just about perfect. No-No Boy tells the story of a young man, Ichiro, who has just returned to Seattle after being imprisoned for answering “no” to two questions in an interment camp — he refused to denounce the Japanese emperor and would not serve in the US military. It not only showed me Seattle in an entirely new light, it has a great supporting cast of characters that included Ichiro’s mother, who refuses to believe Japan lost WWII, his friend Kenji, who is slowly dying from a wound he received as a US soldier, and a lovely, sad young woman whose husband won’t return to her.

I’d probably have never gotten around to reading if I hadn’t attended the University of Washington Friends of the Library Lecture given by UW professor Sean Wong last January. He told the history of No-No Boy as well as how he helped bring it to prominence as a classic of Asian American literature. You can watch the lecture here:

No-No Boy: a novel by John Okada. University of Washington Press, 1979. 0295055252. Introduction by Lawson Fusao Inada, Afterword “In Search of John Okada” by Frank Chin.


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