American Born Chinese

Bibliography: 

Yang, Gene Luen. American Born Chinese. 2008. Square Fish.

ISBN-13: 978-031238448751zCS5BMbyL

Plot: 

American Born Chinese is a Young Adult graphic novel consisting of three distinct stories.

Chinese literary and mythological character Sun Wukong, also known as the Monkey King. Alive for a thousand years, he works to master divine disciplines in hopes of becoming a god. When rejected by the gods, the Monkey King angrily storms around and defeats different gods and goddesses. Tze-Yo-Tzuh—the creator of the universe—buries him under a mountain of rubble. Five-hundred years later, the monk Wong-Lai-Tsao releases him and teaches him the ways of a disciple.

The second story observes the life of Jin Wang, a second generation child of Chinese immigrant parents living in an American suburb. After moving to a predominately white new school, Jin finds it difficult to assimilate into white American culture. There he is bullied by his peers for looking different than them. Jin’s tale is the main story which links the other two stories together.

The third story follows Chin-Kee, a shocking representation of the negative stereotypes associated with Chinese culture. Chin-Kee visits his stereotypical white American cousin Danny, who is extremely embarrassed of him. Danny, who is actually an assimilated adolescent version of Jin, is irritated by Chin-Kee because he perceives his hyperbolic qualities as a mirror if his own appearance in American society.

Critical Analysis: 

Shown on the cover is the most important symbol in this novel: transformer. This toy is given to Jin’s friend Wei-Chen Sun. He says, “He can change into a robot monkey” (39). Jin becomes fascinated with the toy and all that it represents. He transforms into Danny, a blonde white boy who fits in at his school. Wei-Chen transforms from a monkey to a human. Through what appears to be the discipline of meditation, the monkey king transforms and grows into a larger, human-like body. Although they appear in another form, they cannot truly hide from their original form. Each character changes back into their true self.

The caricature Chin-Kee is a blatant stereotype of racist assumptions. Though his representation may seem uncomfortably exaggerated, he represents the psycho-cultural ideology of Yellow Peril: the historical colonial view which fears the rise of the East as a threat to the West and the anxiety of Chinese immigration into the United States. The juxtaposition of Danny and Chin-Kee helps to highlight these fears and anxieties.

By transforming into Danny, Jin rejects parts of his identity which resemble any likeness to his perception of Chin-Kee. Danny is an embodiment of the boy Jin’s environment has made him want to be and Chin-Kee is on the other end: the boy he absolutely does not want to be. Chin-Kee is who and what Jin fears society sees him as.

True to Young Adult Literature form, Jin struggles to form his own identity as he navigates childhood and adolescence. American Born Chinese is a coming of age graphic novel for anyone who has wanted to transform.

Awards:

Michael L. Printz Award: a literary award from the American Library Association which honors excellence in Young Adult literature.

Author and illustrator Gene Luen Yang is a cartoonist named Ambassador for Young People’s Literature by the U.S. Library of Congress.

Reviews:

This much-anticipated, affecting story about growing up different is more than just the story of a Chinese-American childhood; it’s a fable for every kid born into a body and a life they wished they could escape.” Publisher’s Weekly

“With Chin-Kee’s striking embodiment of ethnic confusion and self-betrayal, Gene Luen Yang has created that rare article: a youthful tale with something new to say about American youth.” Sunday Book Review New York Times

American Born Chinese is an amazing rise, all the way up to the astonishing climax–and confirms what a growing number of readers already know: Gene Yang is a major talent.” Goodreads

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-Review by Amanda G.