Tuesday, June 05, 2007

American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang

Some books are remarkable not for what they say but for how they say it. Such is the case with American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang, a graphic novel about the son of immigrants trying to assimilate in an American school. The message of the book can be reduced to "Be yourself," which is a common theme in literature, but there is much more to the book.

American Born Chinese at first appears to be three stories in rotation - a Chinese folk tale about the Monkey King, the story of Jin Wang moving into a new school, and the story of Danny being embarrassed by his very stereotypical Chinese cousin. The Monkey King is angered by the prejudice of the Chinese deities, who will not allow him to join the party in heaven because he does not wear shoes. He transforms himself into a revengeful warrior who attacks the hosts of heaven, for which he is punished by being locked under a mountain of rubble until he learns his lesson.

Jin Wang is the central character. He tries to transform himself into an average American teen with increasing embarrassing results. The story of Danny is mostly in the background until the end when he confronts his cousin. At that point, all the stories come together cleverly.

American Born Chinese is aimed at teens, especially boys. It is at times violent in a comic book way, but it is a serious treatment of an ethnic experience that should be considered for library collections.

Yang, Gene Luen. American Born Chinese. New York: First Second, 2006. ISBN 1596431520

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