No-No Boy, by John Okada, was first published in 1957. Set in Seattle after the end of World War II, it tells the story of Ichiro Yamada, a young Japanese American who refused to serve in the U.S. armed forces during the war and was consequently imprisoned for two years. Now, following his release, Ichiro regrets the decision he made and fears that as a “no-no” boy he has no future in the United States, in spite of the fact that he was born and educated there. During the two weeks in his life described in the novel, he gradually learns to put aside his self-hatred and rediscover a sense of hope and belonging.
No-No Boy made little impact on first publication, but interest in the novel grew in the 1970s, and in the early 2000s, it was established as one of the classic, pioneering Asian American novels. It opens a window on the Japanese American experience in the immediate postwar period, particularly on the generational conflict between the Issei (the first generation of Japanese immigrants, who were born in Japan) and the Nisei (the second generation, born in the United States), and the struggles of the Nisei to come to terms with their dual heritage. As such, the novel has relevance for the experience of many immigrant communities in the United States.