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?
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
- 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.
Yang, G.L. (n.d.). Gene Luen Yang. Retrieved from http://us.macmillan.com/author/geneluenyang
Plot Summary: “Amari shuffled in the dirt as she was led into the yard and up onto a raised wooden table, which she realized gave the people in the yard a perfect view of the women who were to be sold. She looked at the faces in the sea of pink-skinned people who stood around pointing at the captives and jabbering in their language as each of the slaves was described. She looked for pity or even understanding but found nothing except cool stares.” Fifteen-year-old Amari lives in the rural village of Ziavi, in western Africa, with her mother, father and little brother, until one day everything changes. White slave traders from America, accompanied and assisted by members of a neighboring village, murder much of Amari’s community, including her family. Amari survives. The invaders then take Amari and others who were not too young and not too old with them for a long, arduous, and often deadly, voyage to Charles Town, South Carolina. Amari lives through the journey, many of the captives did not. Once in America, Amari is sold and brought to live on a plantation where she meets many other slaves and Polly, a white indentured servant, who is also fifteen. Will the horrors of slavery make Amari wish she too had died? Could Amari and Polly ever become friends? Can Amari find any hope for the future?
Critical Evaluation: Brutally real and disturbingly detailed, Copper Sun tells a story about slavery that is more personal than what young people learn in school or read in a history book. Though the book is a fictional account, Amari comes to life on the pages as a real person that the reader can relate to and feel for. The multifaceted characters have depth and readers can see how complicated their lives are. The story provides insight into the depth of racism, inequality, and inhumanity surrounding slavery. The African characters demonstrate a variety of responses to their horrific circumstances, including astonishing strength of character and spirit, despite horrific treatment and conditions. Draper’s writing is so descriptive that sights, smell, and sounds come to life. Draper’s extensive research into the history of the slave trade lends a good deal of realism to the story, making it both unsettling and important. The writing flows well and the reading level is accessible for teens, though this book contains intense subject matter, in particular the descriptions of frequent physical and sexual abuse. Some of the many awards and honors Copper Sun has received include: 2007 Coretta Scott King Literature Award, Booklist’s Top Ten Historical Fiction Books for Youth, School Library Journal’s Best Book of the Year.
Reader’s Annotation: Fifteen-year-old Amari lives in a rural West African village with her family, until one day everything changes. Amari watches as slave traders from America murder much of her community, including her family; she survives, but what is in store for her makes her wish she had not.
Information about the Author: Sharon Draper has written more than two dozen book,s including a mystery series for grade schoolers and novels for tweens and teens. In addition to being a writer, Draper is a professional educator. She has received many awards and accolades for her writing as well as her teaching, including being honored as National Teacher of the Year and winning the Coretta Scott King Literature Award five times.
“Her book Copper Sun has been selected by the US State Department and the International Reading Association as the United States novel for the international reading project called Reading Across Continents. Students in the US, Nigeria, and Ghana are reading the book and sharing ideas-a true intercontinental, cross-cultural experience.” (Draper, n.d.)
Genre: Historical Novel
Subgenres/Themes: Historical Novel: American History: Nineteenth Century: Slavery; Historical Novel: African History
Topics Covered: Slavery, Africa, African-American History, American History, Friendship, Survival, Racism, Race, Physical Abuse, Emotional Abuse, Sexual Abuse, Violence
Curriculum Ties: American History, African History, Slavery
- Imagine watching the murder of your family and many others in your village, as Amari did.
- How would it feel to be sold?
Reading Level/Interest Age: Ages 14 to 17
Challenge Issues: Physical and Sexual Abuse and a great deal of violence. 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 and honors, as mentioned above in the critical evaluation.
Why is this book included? This book is well written and relevant as historical fiction about a teen in almost unimaginable circumstances. Though this book is fiction, it gives a voice to the experience of a slave and to slavery, a sometimes pushed aside, but important to remember, piece of American history.
Draper, S. M. (n.d.) Biography: Sharon M. Draper. Retrieved from http://sharondraper.com/formal-biography.asp
Plot Summary: Dimple Lala was born in America to Indian immigrant parents. Somewhere between her Indian ancestry and her New Jersey upbringing Dimple seeks answers about who she is and who she wants to be. Dimple’s best friend, Gwyn, does not seem confused at all about who she is and where she belongs. When Gwyn enters the room, people notice; she is blonde, blue-eyed, outgoing, tall, and strikingly beautiful. Dimple would not use any of those words to describe herself. Dimple goes along for the ride with Gwyn, and sometimes gets noticed for her proximity to Gwyn, but rarely does she feel seen herself. In fact, she spends a lot time alone seeing others through the lens of her much-loved camera that she has named Chica Tikka. Dimple and Gwyn have been best friends since they were little, and their love for each other is strong. But this summer, the one when Dimple turns seventeen, things begin to get complicated. Dimple starts to unravel the complexities of her identity and her feelings toward Karsh, “ a suitable Indian boy” her parents try to set her up with. Before she meets him, she rejects even the possibility of liking Karsh, as she does not want her parents picking her boyfriend for her. But, slowly, she realizes, to her pleasant surprise, that Karsh may not be quite as “suitable” as her parents think, and she starts to have feelings for him. Karsh is also the object of Gwyn’s affection, who, unaware of Dimple’s feelings, asks Dimple to help her get Karsh’s attention by wearing Dimple’s Indian clothing and jewelry. Can their friendship endure the strain? Told in the self-deprecating, witty, and charming voice of Dimple, Born Confused provides an authentic look at life from the perspective of one young woman ABCD (American Born Confused Desi).
Critical Evaluation: The themes in Born Confused feel comfortingly familiar for a teen novel: friendship, first love, and identity. But the book is anything but typical. Woven throughout her journeys into her teenage life is Dimple’s deep connection to Indian culture, the traditions, the food, the people. Desai Hidier’s Dimple will make readers smile, as she is sarcastic and quick witted and at the same time caring and sensitive. Readers will be moved by Dimple, will lament her failures and cheer her successes. Born Confused, a Larry King pick of the week, an ALA Best Books for Young Adults book of the year, and a Sunday Times (Times of London) book of the week, is a great addition to a multicultural teen collection. Teen children of Indian Parents living in American will likely find some, if not many, of their experiences reflected in Dimple, and American teens with immigrant parents or whose parents were born in the US will have the opportunity to see the world through Dimple’s eyes and discover the similarities as well as differences in their experiences. Though the book might benefit from a bit of editing to shorten and focus the story, it is nonetheless well worth the read.
Reader’s Annotation: Born in America to Indian immigrant parents, Dimple Lala is caught between two worlds, never feeling like she quite fits in to either one. The summer she turns seventeen is an eventful one, as she traverses the complex worlds of identity, friendship, and first love.
Information about the Author: Though the book Born Confused is not autobiographical, author Tanuja Desai Hidier drew from her family’s history and her personal experiences to create Dimple Lala. She, like Dimple, grew up in a South Asian home in a town with very few people of color. She says that she wrote Born Confused, “To make sense of things, to shape a period of cultural confusion and cultural exhilaration—which can be one and the same thing at times! What does it mean to be Indian? To be South Asian? And, at the heart of that: To be American? And at the soul within that heart: To be yourself?” (www.thisistanuja.com, FAQ’s).
Born Confused is Desai Hidier’s first book, but she has published several short stories, made a short film, and is a singer and songwriter as well. She has adapted Born Confused into screenplay and it is in development with IndieVest Pictures.
Genre: Contemporary Life, Realistic Fiction
Subgenre/Theme: Contemporary Life: Coming of Age
Topics Covered: Identity, Race, Immigrants, Friendship, Love, Music, Indian Americans, Bhangra, Family
Curriculum Ties: Immigrants, children of immigrants, family, race in the United States, social studies
- Talk about being in between two worlds
- Talk about Dimple and Gwyn’s relationship as things start to tense
- Discuss Gwyn’s appropriation of Dimple’s culture
- Read Dimple’s description of how good she feels being in her dark room
Reading Level/Interest Age: 15 – 19 years
Challenge Issues: There are no obvious challenge issues associated with this book. Preparation for any challenge can include the librarian’s: reading of the book, adhering to the library’s collection development department, and possessing reviews of the book from well-regarded sources.
Why is this book included? Originally, I found the book while researching the journal, MultiCultural Review, which critically praised the book, as did reviewers from VOYA, Publisher’s Weekly, and School Library Journal. Born Confused portrays a unique perspective, that of an American Born teenage girl of Indian ancestry. While there are excellent books about South Asian young adults, these books are not abundant. But, South Asian American teens, like all teens, deserve to have their stories told and to see themselves reflected in the books they read. Additionally, Dimple Lala has important things to share with teens from all backgrounds
Ringler, R. (2003). Born Confused (Book). Multicultural Review, 12(3), 103.
Makhijani, P. (2010). More than Monkeys, Maharajahs, and Mangoes: South Asian Literature for Your Readers. Voice of Youth Advocates, 33(1), 14-17.