American Born Chinese
By Gene Luen Yang
Paperback, 233 pages
2006, Square Fish
“Three very different characters. One simple goal: to fit in.” Jin moves with his family and attends a new middle school where he’s the only Chinese-American student. He makes a few friends along the way, but just wants to be the All-American boy so he can date his dream girl. Danny is the All-American boy who struggles to fit in once his overly-stereotyped Chinese cousin, Chin-kee, comes to visit. The Monkey King has worked hard to master the art of kung fu, only to be laughed out of a party by all the other gods because he’s a monkey. Each character must find a way to work with the others to fix what their lives have become.
I was very impressed with Boxers & Saints, so when I saw American Born Chinese at a used bookstore (last night) for only $5.00, I couldn’t pass it up! In fact, it’s been on my wish list before I even knew Boxers & Saints existed. I flew through this book because Yang’s writing style is so witty and easy to understand. His illustrations are wonderful too. At first I didn’t understand how these three, very different, characters could be at all related, but by the end it became clear, along with Yang’s main message of the book: be yourself.
This is definitely a subject many teens struggle with, whether they’re new to the country or not, and I imagine that many adults also have an issue staying true to who they are. It can be difficult to just be yourself in the face of adversity, especially in Jin’s case, where his classmates are constantly picking on him for being foreign. Even when Jin tried to become more “American” it didn’t stop the teasing because he was a poor imitation and of course was much more natural just being himself.
I also enjoyed the tale of the Monkey King – it had a mythological, fairy tale feel and Yang’s illustrations of the different deities were a pleasure to look at. I was a little confused about how all three characters tied together and though Yang explained it, I was still left with a little “huh?” at the end. But that didn’t really detract from the story (or three stories) or the overall message.
I really enjoyed this book. Anyone who likes graphic novels, especially young adult ones, or those who have read Boxers & Saints, should check out American Born Chinese. For such a short book, it’s well worth your time!
Here are a few pictures of the wonderful artwork: