By Gene Luen Yang
Genre: Graphic Novel, Cultural, Fantasy
Reading Level: 5th grade
Interest Level: 9th-12th grade
Awards: Michael L. Printz Award (2007), James Cook Book Award Nominee (2007), Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards for Best Graphic Album – New (2007), National Book Award Finalist for Young People’s Literature (2006), One Book One San Diego for Young Adult (2014)
Teaser: Jin Wang is a second-generation child of immigrants who is moving from the city to the suburbs. He struggles with his heritage because of the way people stereotype him at school.
Summary: American Born Chinese is a graphic novel with three story lines that are interwoven. The first story is a retelling of a well-known tale from China about the Monkey King. All the gods and goddesses are throwing a party, but the Monkey King was not invited. He decides to crash the party and give the other deities a hard time for not inviting him. When he gets there he is not allowed in because he is “just a monkey.” Angry at the lack of acknowledgement from the gods and goddesses, the Monkey King locks himself away so that he can master kung fu. The next story line focuses in on Jin who is a 3rd grader living in San Francisco. His mom drags him along to the herbalist store and when he is alone an old woman tells him that he can be whatever he wants to be, but he should be careful because he might also lose his soul. Jin remembers this encounter as he grows up. The final story line is set in the 1990s and focuses on this all-american white boy named Danny. Danny’s cousin, Chin-kee, is coming into town to visit and he symbolizes every stereotype of a Chinese American. As the three stories progress the reader finds out that Jin is making revelations of his own. His experiences with his classmates and his interactions with girls gives him a different perspective on what it means to be Chinese-American. He should not be so prideful like the Monkey King and he should see the good in having a Chinese heritage rather than focusing on the bad like Danny.
Information about the Author: Gene Luen Yang writes, “Hi! I’m Gene Luen Yang. Thanks for visiting my site! I began making comics and graphic novels in the fifth grade. In 2006, my book American Born Chinese was published by First Second Books. It became the first graphic novel to be nominated for a National Book Award and the first to win the American Library Association’s Printz Award. It also won an Eisner Award for Best Graphic Album – New. In 2013, First Second Books released Boxers & Saints, my two-volume graphic novel about the Boxer Rebellion. Boxers & Saints was nominated for a National Book Award and won the L.A. Times Book Prize. I’ve done a number of other comics, including Dark Horse Comics’ continuation of the popular Nickelodeon cartoon Avatar: The Last Airbender and DC Comics’ Superman! In addition cartooning, I teach creative writing through Hamline University’s MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults. I teach alongside amazing authors like Anne Ursu, Gary Schmidt, Laura Ruby, Matt De La Pena, and more. In January 2016, the Library of Congress, Every Child A Reader, and the Children’s Book Council appointed me the National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature.”
Critical Evaluation: The three interweaving stories keep the central story of Jin very interesting. It also speaks to how Jin is coming to terms with what he sees as two separate parts of himself: his American-ness and his Chinese-ness. By the end of the novel, the reader understands that Jin just wants to be seen as himself rather than being stereotyped because of the way that he looks. The art work in this graphic novel is very good. I like the clean lines and the consistency of those lines in every frame. The color contrast is on the lighter side which gives all of the graphics a washed-out look. Or like a faded old picture look. Perhaps Yang did this to represent the time period which was the 1990s. In each story line, Yang does a good job of switching voices for the characters by changing the way they talk and what words they choose to use. This was the graphic novel that changed my perception of graphic novels.
Curriculum Ties: Immigration in the United States, United States History, California History
Booktalk Ideas: Write a paragraph talking about a story/legend/myth that you have heard and discuss the ways that you could apply it to your life.
Challenge Issues: Racism
Challenge Resources: Rationale for choosing this book (see “Why Did I Pick This”), Engage students and parents in discussions about intellectual freedom, ALA Library Bill of Rights,Challenge Resources from the American Library Association
Why Did I Pick This: This graphic novel changed my perception of graphic novels. I thought that all graphic novels were stories in the anime genre. American Born Chinese is a complex, interwoven, tale that speaks to the experience of a young, teenager coping with his heritage and his self-identity. Teens will be able to relate to so many of the issues in the book.
Yang, G.L. (2008). American Born Chinese. New York: Square Fish.