TITLE: American Born Chinese
AUTHOR: Gene Luan Yang
PUBLISHER: First Second
RELEASE DATE: September 1, 2006
GENRE: Junior Graphic Novel
PAGE COUNT: 240
Fusing mythology with a contemporary coming of age story, American Born Chinese confronts Asian stereotypes and cultural alienation. These topics may sound heavy, but Yang weaves his story around these themes effortlessly, like a present-day Aesop’s fable while remaining fresh and fun.
Jin Wang is the only Chinese American at his new school. When the new kid from Taiwan tries to befriend him, Jin is scared that being seen with a FOB (Fresh Off the Boat) will destroy his chances of fitting in. Meanwhile, cool all-American teen Danny is scared his Chinese cousin Chin-Kee will ruin his rep with his popular crush.
Interwoven with Jin’s and Danny’s narratives is the story of the Monkey King, a deity who seeks to transcend his animal nature by mastering the arts of Kung Fu. While the Monkey King’s story begins as a separate plotline, it eventually ties into the present-day. This plotline is an analogy that deepens the meaning of Jin’s experience by voicing Jin’s troubled relationship with his culture, history, and community. Besides providing insight, the Monkey King’s misadventures are action-packed with a Saturday morning kid’s cartoon vibe that will appeal to junior readers.
Stereotypes & Misperceptions
American Born Chinese is intentionally tongue-in-cheek with its Chinese representations. By blowing Asian stereotypes completely out of proportion, Yang targets readers’ socially constructed expectations to confront their harmful inaccuracy. I appreciate that Yang also portrays how people can have negative perceptions of their own culture, and chose to reject their own community to avoid being lumped with that community’s common stereotypes. For example, Jin worries that being associated with new kid Wei-Chen Sun will make him unpopular and a bigger target for bullies. He is all too aware of how other people misperceive his community and choses to alienate himself in self-preservation. While aspects of Jin’s struggle will be relatable to most junior readers, I’m not sure how deeply they will understand the nuances regarding racism without parental discussion afterwards. It is still a thought-provoking book for adult readers.
Taking less than an hour to read, American Born Chinese is a vibrant and attractive junior graphic novel. While it didn’t have a particularly strong impact on me personally, I appreciate how it manages to address controversial adult concepts through child-friendly experiences and graphics.