Displacement, by Kiki Hughes, for Timeslip Tuesday

Displacement, by Kiki Hughes (First Second, August 2020), is a stunning graphic novel that tells of a girl travelling back to the internment camp where her Japanese great grandparents and their daughter, her grandmother, were imprisoned during WW II.  

The book opens in 2016, with sixteen-year-old Kiku being dragged around San Francisco by her mom, looking for the house where her family had lived before all people of Japanese descent on the West Coast were rounded-up and incarcerated during WW II.  Standing where the house had once stood, Kiku finds herself inside a sudden fog, and when it clears she's in the audience of a violin concert.  Her own grandmother, Ernestina, is the violinist. 

A second "displacement," as Kiku thinks of them, happens soon after.  This time she finds herself in a nightmarish line of Japanese people, herded along while Caucasian men with guns watch them. Meanwhile, on the tv in their hotel room, Kiku and her mother hear Donald Trump railing against Muslims entering the US.

Home again in Seattle, Kiku displaces once more, and this time she's gone so long in the past she thinks she might never get home again.   As Number 19106, she's one of many shunted first to a temporary internment camp, and then sent to the Utah desert where she spends the next year.  Many things are horrible.  The fear and uncertainty weigh heavily on all the Japanese Americans in the camp, and the living conditions are grim. Kiku find comfort in good freinds, which keeps her going.  And she can hear her grandmother's violin, traveling through the thin walls, though their paths don't cross, and Kiku feels reluctant to force a meeting.

When she finally tries to do so, the fog comes back, and she is home again, in time to see more xenophoic poison on tv. Her experience is too vivid to keep to herself, so she tells her mother, and it turns out she, too, had travelled back to the camp.  And the story wraps up with a bit more time slipping, with her mother, to see Ernestina as a grown-up, and finally closes with real world activism by Kiku and her mother, protesting the new versions of internment camps in Trump's America.

Her mother's theory is that the trauma of the experience has left a generational echo, but the time travel is much more physically real than an echo suggest--Kiku comes back from her second slip with a knee grazed by a fall in the past, and her life in the internment camp, a very real, very lived life, is much more than can be easily dismissed as unreal.  The months she spends in the camp, bored, and frightened, making friends (including one girl who I got the impression might, if things had been otherwise, been more than a friend) might be low on action and adventure, but it's tremendously evocative, and Kiku is a very real and believable teenager.  It was bleak, sad, and scary, but not depressing.

In any event, the time travel is a satisfying mechanism for Kiku, and the reader, to visit a dark piece of American's past.  In my own way of thinking about time travel books, I'd classify this as "time travel as educational experience for character and reader,", but it's also, just as much so, the story of a girl in horrible circumstances, making it though as best she can.  

Even though I'm graphic novel challenged (I have trouble making my eyes move from the words to the pictures when I read them), I had no problem following what was happening even though I wanted to read rather than look!  I was helped, I think, by Kiku's hair being lighter in color than everyone else's (her dad is white); it helped my eyes find her quickly in the pictures without focusing (everyone else looked distinct too, but not as immediately so).

I liked it lots!


  1. I have been wanting to read this one!

  2. I don't read a lot of graphic novels, but this sounds like it might be worth my time. Thanks for telling me about it.


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