Yang, Gene Lee. American Born Chinese. London: Square Fish, 2008. ISBN 0312384483.
2. PLOT SUMMARY
Told in three short stories, Gene Yang brings to life Jin, a Chinese boy struggling to fit in around the American girl he likes, Danny, an all-American student tormented by his stereo-typical Chinese cousin who has come visit, and the Monkey Kings, an all-powerful monkey deity, who wants to be anything but a monkey. But these seemingly different characters all have something in common – they want to be something other than themselves. Can they work together to find their true-form and become something more that was inside of them all along?
3. CRITICAL ANALYSIS
At first, all three of the short stories presented in American Born Chinese seem like parallels, but not interlocking pieces. We meet the Monkey King, who longs to be thought of as the greatest of all, but learns to be a servant. Then we met Jin, who’s story is the most prominent of the tales. Jin seeks nothing more than to fit in and not be seen as an outsider in front of the girl he likes, and then we meet Danny. Danny is an all-American boy with a Chinese cousin, who embarrasses him with his stereo-typical Chinese ways. And, we can see ourselves in each character – the need to not be an outsider – but to be accepted. We can feel the embarrassment of Danny as his cousin’s oblivious actions and over-the-top accent make him afraid that he will be outcast because of something he can’t control. Yang’s drawing style stays simple and uncrowded, but each of these characters is an individual on the page. The short blocks of the graphic novel style allow a quick flow to the reading without feeling choppy. The theme remains constant and uncomplicated as the stories progress – two in typical “American” high schools and one on the mystical monkey islands. There is just enough setting to get a feel for the place, without it overpowering the narrative development. And it flows easily from fantasy to contemporary without the reader feeling lost in who’s story is at the forefront for the moment – right until we find that all of the stories are intertwined in more than just theme. Danny transforms back into Jin with the help of the Monkey King, who’s spiritual journey has taught him how to be a disciple instead of just a leader and with the right push, Jin moves to help his one-time friend, who needs it more than he does.
4. REVIEW EXCERPT(S)
2007 MICHAEL L. PINTZ AWARD
2006 NATIONAL BOOK AWARDS FINALIST – YOUNG PEOPLE’S LITERATURE
2007 BEST GRAPHIC ALBUM: NEW
2006/2007 BEST BOOK AWARD FROM THE CHINESE AMERICAN LIBRARIANS ASSOCIATION
BOOKLIST TOP TEN GRAPHIC NOVELS FOR YOUTH
From SCHOOL LIBRARY JOURNAL – “Yang’s crisp line drawings, linear panel arrangement, and muted colors provide a strong visual complement to the textual narrative. Like Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye and Laurence Yep’s Dragonwings, this novel explores the impact of the American dream on those outside the dominant culture in a finely wrought story that is an effective combination of humor and drama.”
From PUBLISHERS WEEKLY – “True to its origin as a Web comic, this story's clear, concise lines and expert coloring are deceptively simple yet expressive. Even when Yang slips in an occasional Chinese ideogram or myth, the sentiments he's depicting need no translation.”
Gather other books about fitting in and feeling like an outsider:
• Alexie, Sherman. Ills. Ellen Forney. THE ABSOLUTE TRUE DIARY OF A PART-TIME INDIAN. ISBN 0316013692.
• Chbosky, Stephen. THE PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER. ISBN 1451696191.
Gather other Gene Yang books to read such as:
• ANIMAL CRACKERS: A GENE LUEN COLLECTION. ISBN 1593621833.
• Ills. Thien Pham. LEVEL UP. ISBN 1596432357.
• Ills. Sonny Liew. THE SHADOW HERO. ISBN 1596436972.