American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang

Bibliographic Information: Yang, G.L. (2006). American Born Chinese. New York, NY: First Second.  ISBN: 1596431520.  240 pages.

Plot Summary: In three concurrent story lines, American Born Chinese follows Jin Wang, the only Chinese American student in his school; the Monkey King, who is on a quest to become a true deity; and Chin Kee (yes, that is his name), the embodiment of negative Chinese ethnic stereotypes who, when he comes to visit, humiliates his popular, all-American-looking cousin, Danny.  Jin Wang is picked on by bullies, falls in love with an “all-American” girls, and is an all-around sympathetic and likeable character.  The Monkey King’s tale is reminiscent of ancient fables.  And Chin Kee is so over the top, he just might make readers squirm.  Using illustrations with clean lines and a cool, earthy color palette, Yang raises issues of ethnicity, race, identity, and self-acceptance.  Each story gives readers lots to think about.  Are they really separate stories, or is there a connection between them?

Critical Evaluation: Expressive illustrations and carefully chosen text make this graphic novel sophisticated and intelligent.  Yang uses some over-the-top characters, as well as more relatable ones, to demonstrate the complexities of identity and being comfortable in one’s own skin.  His prose is humorous and poignant, entertaining and thought-provoking.  His illustrations work hand in hand with his prose to create a visual story with depth and emotion.  His weaving of the book’s elements into a whole that is so much more than the sum of its excellent parts is what makes Yang a master at his craft and highly praised by critics and award committees.  American Born Chinese has earned many awards and honors, what follows is a selected list: 2006 National Book Award Finalist for Young People’s Literature, winner of the 2007 Eisner Award for Best Graphic Album: New, Winner of the Printz Award, YALSA Great Graphic Novel for Teens – Top Ten List, 2007.

Reader’s Annotation: In three concurrent story lines, colorfully and expressively illustrated American Born Chinese follows Jin Wang, the only Chinese American student in his school; the Monkey King, who is on a quest to become a true deity; and Chin Kee (yes, that is his name), the embodiment of negative Chinese ethnic stereotypes.

Information about the Author: Gene Luen Yang lives in the San Francisco Bay Area; he started writing comic books in 5th grade.  For his Master’s in Education at Cal State Hayward, he wrote his thesis on using comics in education.  He has written several comic books; the highly praised American Born Chinese was his first graphic novel.

Yang is playful and has a great sense of humor, as is demonstrated by his books as well as the following answers to eight questions (as quoted from his Macmillan biography page.

EIGHT QUESTIONS from GENE LUEN YANG

What’s your favorite book that wasn’t written or drawn by you?

I have to pick only one?  I’m gonna say Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud. If it weren’t for that book, I wouldn’t be a cartoonist.

If you were shipwrecked on a desert island, what one piece of media would you take with you?  If it isn’t your favorite book, explain how you came to this peculiar decision. 

A picture of my wife.  Or maybe the Bible.  No, a picture of my wife.  Because she’s so pretty.

What’s your favorite ice cream flavor?

I love all flavors of ice cream, but I’m lactose intolerant so I’ll have to say Rainbow Sherbet.  Not as yummy as Mocha Almond Fudge, but so much better for my stomach.  And for the folks sitting next to me.

How are you planning to survive the zombie apocalypse?

I’m gonna develop a taste for zombie flesh.  Then I’m gonna go buy a large carving knife and lots of hot sauce.

What’s your favorite word?

“Moded.”  Remember when junior high kids used to use that word to diss on their friends?  So fun.  We gotta bring that back.  A whole generation is missing out on getting “moded.”

If you suddenly fell into a dimensional vortex and ended up in 1529, what profession would you adopt?

Ninja assassin!

Black or white?  Cats or dogs?  Apples or oranges?  Robots or vampires?

Black vampire apple-dogs

What’s the worst fortune cookie advice you ever got?  Did you take it? 

You take advice from fortune cookies?  Seriously?  We invented those things as a gimmick to sell you more moo shu pork.  You’re not actually supposed to run your life by them.

Genre: Issues, Humor

SubGenre/Themes: Issues: Racism,

Format: Graphic Novel: Real Life Themes

Topics Covered: Race, Racism, Outsiders, Fitting In

Curriculum Ties: Race in America, Stereotypes

Booktalking Ideas:

  • Thinking about being the only one in your school that…

Reading Level/Interest Age: Ages 13 to 19 to adult

Challenge Issues: Stereotypes.  Response: In response to any challenges, one can refer to the library’s collection development policies.  Also, there are several positive reviews of the book, and it has won numerous awards and honors, four are mentioned above.

Why is this book included? Graphic novels are very popular and often reach out to reluctant readers.  With an enthusiastic endorsement from YASLA and its numerous awards, this book is a great choice for adding diversity to a collection’s formats.

References:

Yang, G.L. (n.d.). Gene Luen Yang. Retrieved from http://us.macmillan.com/author/geneluenyang

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