We Are Not Strangers: A Graphic Novel

by Josh Tuininga

Other authorsJosh Tuininga (Illustrator)
Hardcover, 2023

Call number




Harry N. Abrams (2023), 208 pages


Inspired by a true story, this graphic novel follows a Jewish immigrant's efforts to help his Japanese neighbors while they are incarcerated during World War II Marco Calvo always knew his grandfather, affectionately called Papoo, was a good man. After all, he was named for him. A first-generation Jewish immigrant, Papoo was hardworking, smart, and caring. When Papoo peacefully passes away, Marco expected the funeral to be simple. However, he is caught off guard by something unusual. Among his close family and friends are mourners he doesn't recognize-Japanese- American families-and no one is quite sure who they are or why they are at the service. How did these strangers know his grandfather so well? Set in the multicultural Central District of Seattle during World War II and inspired by author Josh Tuininga's family experiences, We Are Not Strangers explores a unique situation of Japanese and Jewish Americans living side by side in a country at war. Following Marco's grandfather's perspective, we learn of his life as a Sephardic Jewish immigrant and his struggles as he settles into an America gearing up its war efforts. Despite the conflict raging just outside US borders, Papoo befriends Sam Akiyama, a Japanese man who finds his world upended from President Roosevelt's Executive Order 9066. Determined to keep Sam's business afloat while he and his family are unjustly imprisoned, Sam and Papoo create a plan that will change the Akiyama's lives forever. An evocative and beautifully illustrated historical fiction graphic novel, We Are Not Strangers converges two perspectives into a single portrait of a community's struggle with race, responsibility, and what it truly means to be an American.… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member varwenea
“We Are Not Strangers: A Graphic Novel” achieves a rare feat of having a poignant, impactful story based on true historical events AND having fantastic artwork. Bravo to Tuininga.

This book was born from curiosity and a whole lot of research. Tuininga’s uncle, Marco, while attending his
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grandfather’s funeral services in 1987, observed three guests that he did not know. What makes it even more curious is that Marco and his family are Sephardic Jewish immigrants, while these unknown guests are all Japanese. The book then goes back in time, to before the beginning of World War I, when Marco’s grandfather, the original Marco journeyed to America. Like many immigrants of color, redlining kept them in certain districts. Marco befriended a Japanese American, Sam Akiyama, and became fishing buddies. In time, the events of WWII, the bombing of Japanese Harbor, and the 1942 mandatory evacuation (Executive Order 9066, i.e. internment camps) dramatically changed their lives. Marco, having seen all that had happened to Jews overseas and whom he couldn’t help, was determined to help those he can. With some research, he figured out how and got to work for the next years until the Akiyama family and several other families he had helped were finally released and returned in 1946. How did he help? Each family signed over limited power of attorney. Marco rented out their houses, collecting rent to pay mortgage and taxes, and made repairs as a property manager. He had to do it stealthily, so he would not be branded a “J*p-lover” and risked a beating during those ugly years. He never told anyone, not even his own family to protect them. Through letters that Akiyama kept and stories from Akiyama himself, Tuininga pieced together this hidden part of Grandpa Marco’s momentous history.

Tuininga further included historical images, locations, and landmarks to explain sources and inspirations of stories. An example is the famous Linc’s Tackle Shop, whose Japanese owners were able to keep their shop because a family friend paid their taxes while they were gone and whose grandson now runs the very popular Seattle Fish Guys fishmonger and restaurant.

I had the pleasure of attending the author’s talk. The simplicity of what had happened, layered by the many historical tidbits of the area, made the book very worthwhile.
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LibraryThing member BridgetteS
*sweet, emotional, feel-good book
*the bonds of unexpected friendships during war (between Jewish and Japanese families) is the basis of the story
*very well-written and easy to read from cover to cover
*strong character development
*highly recommend
LibraryThing member eo206
I've been eagerly awaiting this book. Based in Seattle the story is of two men, one Jewish, the other Japanese. They start off as casual fishing acquaintances and become friends. As WWII starts, Sam Akiyama faces the reality he will have to give up his life and livelihood to live in an internment
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camp for an indeterminant amount of time his Jewish friend steps forward and tells him to turn over his house and business to him to keep them running and safe. It took a lot of trust and sacrifice for the arrangement to work. This was a balm to read with the current strife in the world and a way to remind people, especially children, individual relationships matter, proximity to different people promote understanding, and we can take individual actions to make a difference.
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LibraryThing member StaffPicks
This memoir is perfect for fans of “The Great Canadian Pottery Throwdown” TV show. Gadsby’s tome takes the reader from his early school days to his mastery of the art of pottery through training and apprenticeship. For those who have always dreamed of being a professional potter, this book
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will provide creativity and details galore. Be inspired and learn more than you’ve ever known about pottery techniques and the incredible craftsmanship that goes into each piece. - Kendra
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Excellence in Graphic Literature Award (Winner — Young Adult Non-Fiction — 2024)
Sophie Brody Medal (Honorable Mention — 2024)




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