BWW Review: AMERICAN BORN CHINESE by Gene Luen Yang
AMERICAN BORN CHINESE by Gene Luen Yang broke boundaries when it won the 2007 Printz Award and was a 2006 National Book Award finalist. No graphic novel had ever received either award before. The graphic novel has gone on to win many other awards and become a school reading staple.
There are three competing stories at play in AMERICAN BORN CHINESE, and they all tie together in surprising ways by the story's conclusion.
The first tale is a Chinese fable that tells the story of Sun Wukong (The Monkey King), who despite being a deity and disciple, is barred from a fancy dinner party. He decides he doesn't want to be a Monkey anymore, and tries to break free of his caste.
The second features Jin Wang, who moves to the suburbs...to a town where he is one of only two Asian kids in the class. So, of course, he and his classmate avoid one another, even as their classmates constantly ask if they're related! His story shows racism, and the way people choose to ignore facts when they have an idea in mind for "how things really are." Yes, Jin is Chinese. No, he's not related to his Japanese classmate. No, he moved from San Francisco, not China. No, he doesn't eat cats. And on and on. When a third Asian kid comes to town, Jin tries to avoid him lest the cycle start all over again...but instead, the two boys become best friends!
The third tale is that of all-American boy Danny...who has a Chinese relative named Chin-Kee. Chin-Kee comes to the USA to visit once every year...and every time he visits, Danny finds that he has to move to a new school!!! Chin-Kee is the very embodiment of every stereotype, and super embarrassing.
The three tales take turns going back and forth, each taking turns revealing a piece of their individual stories at a time. The three collide in completely unexpected ways that really flesh out the story and turn it into something cohesive.
I really enjoyed reading a new fable I hadn't heard before and seeing how it might resonate in today's society. I also liked glimpsing into the lives of Jin and Danny. Jin's story was my favorite, and I was always super excited when we got a new piece of his tale!
In some ways, this book reminds me of the TV series Fresh Off the Boat, full of both factual cultural and harmful stereotypes alike. Both mediums meld the two worlds together.
This is a book that, as soon as you finish reading it, you want to pick it up and start all over again to see how everything connects and to pick up on all that you missed! Bonus, it took me less than an hour to read the book, since I read graphic novels very fast, and it made it really easy to go back and scout out the story's finer details!
Gene Luen Yang has been on my radar for a long time, and I've even had his graphic novel duology Boxers and Saints sitting on my nightstand for...well, quite a while now. I'm excited to dive into more of his award-winning work.
***AMERICAN BORN CHINESE by Gene Luen Yang was released in the USA on September 5 2006 from First Second // Macmillan Books.