American Born Chinese

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Title: American Born Chinese
Author: Gene Luen Yang
Illustrator: Lark Pien
Pages: 233
Genre: Graphic Novel
Publisher: Roaring Book Press (Macmillan), First Second
Release Date: September 5, 2006

American Born Chinese won the Michael L. Printz award for young adult literature in 2007. I was intrigued by Trisha's review at Eclectic/Eccentric and thought I'd give it a try for my second graphic novel ever. ;)

Three seemingly separate stories make up this graphic novel and come together in a surprisingly clever way at the end. The stories are all told a little at a time, rotating through all three each time. The first story (my least favorite) was a supposed folk tale about a monkey king who is offended when he isn't allowed into a party because he is a... monkey. He then starts his own journey to master different disciplines to prove himself. The second story is about a Chinese American boy, Jin, trying to fit in at school and be known for anything other than his Asian heritage. He purposely denigrates the other Chinese boy in his class and avoids the Chinese girl so no one will think they're a couple.

The third story in the novel is about a Caucasian boy, Danny, who is horribly embarrassed by his Chinese cousin -- the ultimate Asian stereotype. He enters his first scene shouting "HARRO AMELLICA!!" He attends school with Danny and causes even Danny to be somewhat of an outcast because of his outrageous behaviors. I wondered how Danny was related to a Chinese boy when neither Danny nor the cousin were obviously half of either ethnicity or biracial. I was afraid this wouldn't be answered, but naive me... it was answered in the end in a powerful way.

These last two stories really provided some insight into the Asian American experience. For instance, the story with Jin exemplified the inner conflict that occurs when children of another ethnicity (or even those who are just different in general) try to fit in as opposed to support those with whom they can relate. The stories were fun, but you would have to have a sense of humor regarding stereotypes and be able to make fun of a situation, even where real issues are concerned. Anyone who might be easily offended should probably stay away from this. As you can see, the pictures were simply drawn and colorful. While the stories were interesting, I found them all to be fairly average after a while -- but that's because I didn't know what was to come; the best part was the clever culmination of all the stories in the end. Even now thinking about it (and I read this a while ago) I feel the same sense of wonderment that I did when I first read it. If I ever wondered how the three stories would converge (which I did), I was given an amazingly fun and smart answer that made the entire read worth it!


Zibilee said...

Wonderful review! I am not sure how I would like three narrative threads winding into each other, but the synopsis you provided does really intrigue me. I haven't read many graphic novels, but this one looks very interesting to me. I will have to add it to the wish list. Thanks for the awesome review!

Helen's Book Blog said...

I read this book earlier this year and enjoyed it. I agree that it gives an interesting look into the Asian American experience!

Stephanie aka The Stark Raving Bibliophile said...

Wow ... that kid with the big teeth looks like such an offensive caricature! I am intrigued by the fact that this author seems fearless in taking on ethnic stereotypes. if handled skillfully, it could be quite good. :)

Aarti said...

This is one of those GNs (along with Persepolis) that I have not read but it seems everyone else has! I'm glad to have come across this detailed review. It sounds similar in some ways to another GN I read recently, Shortcomings by Adrian Tomine, in that it really confronts those stereotypes.

Trisha said...

I'm so glad you like it! I was really wowed by the end as well.

Amanda said...

Over a year later this book STILL confuses me as to how I should feel about it. It makes me very uncomfortable and i don't like it as much as others seem to.

Jenny said...

Heather -- It was sort of neat how they tied together!

Helen -- it's definitely not PC, lol.. but I think it's genuine.

Stephanie -- Yes, definitely! I can see some people being offended by this though.

Aarti -- I read that one too!! I haven't written a review though yet. But that one definitely had similar issues!

Trisha -- I didn't see that one coming, lol!

Amanda -- I'll have to go back and read your review again. Was it the awful stereotypes you didn't like?

heatherlo said...

This was one of the first GNs I read, and I too was astonished (in a good way) by the ending. I thought it was absolutely perfect and made the entire book for me. I think I liked the individual stories a little more than you did, but I'm glad the ending made up for that for you. :)

lurker-lost said...

Um, it struck me that you said "[Jin] avoids the Chinese girl [in his class]"... because she's not actually Chinese, she's Japanese*.

Since making out that all Asian looking people are from the same country, is uh, problematic, maybe you should change that to "avoids the Asian girl"?

You might think it doesn't matter, or that no one's going to read a review that's two years old -- but I did. I was just randomly googling reviews for this book, and yours was one of the first few to turn up! It was a great review that was telling me everything I needed to know (so thanks for that. Thanks for writing it!), but this one detail kind of jumped out at me... and especially conidering the subject matter and spirit of the book, I thought I'd point it out!

*In case you're curious how I'm so sure she's Japanese: in the picture you've got up there showing the relevant panels, it names her Suzy Nakamura. Nakamura is a really, really, Japanese name. If you think about it, it doesn't actually sound anything like most Chinese names (Nakamura vs. Chang, Wong, Lien, Chu, etc... Her name is four syllables with no dipthongs, but Chinese names always have only one, maximum two, consonants plus a long vowel or a dipthong).

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