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American Born Chinese Paperback – September 5, 2006
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Indie graphic novelist Gene Yang's intelligent and emotionally challenging American Born Chinese is made up of three individual plotlines: the determined efforts of the Chinese folk hero Monkey King to shed his humble roots and be revered as a god; the struggles faced by Jin Wang, a lonely Asian American middle school student who would do anything to fit in with his white classmates; and the sitcom plight of Danny, an All-American teen so shamed by his Chinese cousin Chin-Kee (a purposefully painful ethnic stereotype) that he is forced to change schools. Each story works well on its own, but Yang engineers a clever convergence of these parallel tales into a powerful climax that destroys the hateful stereotype of Chin-Kee, while leaving both Jin Wang and the Monkey King satisfied and happy to be who they are.
Yang skillfully weaves these affecting, often humorous stories together to create a masterful commentary about race, identity, and self-acceptance that has earned him a spot as a finalist for the National Book Award for Young People. The artwork, rendered in a chromatically cool palette, is crisp and clear, with clean white space around center panels that sharply focuses the reader's attention in on Yang's achingly familiar characters. There isn't an adolescent alive who won't be able to relate to Jin's wish to be someone other than who he is, and his gradual realization that there is no better feeling than being comfortable in your own skin.--Jennifer Hubert
From Publishers Weekly
As alienated kids go, Jin Wang is fairly run-of-the-mill: he eats lunch by himself in a corner of the schoolyard, gets picked on by bullies and jocks and develops a sweat-inducing crush on a pretty classmate. And, oh, yes, his parents are from Taiwan. 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. The fable is filtered through some very specific cultural icons: the much-beloved Monkey King, a figure familiar to Chinese kids the world over, and a buck-toothed amalgamation of racist stereotypes named Chin-Kee. Jin's hopes and humiliations might be mirrored in Chin-Kee's destructive glee or the Monkey King's struggle to come to terms with himself, but each character's expressions and actions are always perfectly familiar. 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. Yang accomplishes the remarkable feat of practicing what he preaches with this book: accept who you are and you'll already have reached out to others. (Sept.)
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Top Customer Reviews
Three storylines. Three different characters. One single idea. At the heart of our first story is Jin Wang, the son of Chinese immigrants, who just wants to fit in. He wants to date the cute blond girl in the overalls and to perm his hair. What he wants, and how far he's willing to go to get it, is the center of the story itself. The second storyline concerns the tales of the Monkey King. Not content to be merely a monkey, the Monkey King did everything in his power to become a Great Sage, Equal of Heaven. This was all well and good until he was informed by Tze-Yo-Tzuh, creator of all existence, that he was a monkey after all. It's not until the King can accept what he is that he is able to free himself from his own self-induced prison. The third storyline is the riskiest of the three. It plays out like a bad sitcom, with a kid named Danny and his cousin Chin-Kee. Chin-Kee is every horrible Chinese stereotype ever concocted and rolled into a single character. His story slowly continues until it becomes clear that the three different tales we've been reading have merged into a single narrative. And at the heart of the narrative is the idea that assimilation is a question of forfeiting your soul. A forfeit that no one should want to make.
Yang skillfully brings together all kinds of elements that relate to the idea of wanting to become someone you're not. When we first see Jin Wang, he's just a little kid playing with a Transformer. Jin Wang loves Transformers so much that he wants to be one when he grows up. It seems like a typical kid-like thing to say, but Yang understands the essential lure of what a Transformer was. It changed from one thing to another according to the situation. So when you see Jin and his young Chinese-American friends gathered on Saturday mornings with their Transformers to watch the tv show of the same name and then act it out, you know precisely what Yang's saying. The book is full of small details like this that kids, even if they don't entirely understand what is being said, will contemplate on a much deeper level.
My husband snatched up and read this book just before I was able to (he's a grapic novel fan), and he complained a little that the Monkey King storyline wasn't in more of the book. I feel torn on the issue. On the one hand, I think that Yang has given just the right amount of weight and time to each tale in this book. On the other hand, it's hard not to want more Monkey King. I'm kind of ashamed to say it, but the first time I ever heard of the legend was when I read, "The Sign of Qin" by L.G. Bass. After that I found other Monkey King picture books, and came to the slow realization that here was an amazing character. A trickster, but with a kind of gravity that makes him a more understandable character than your usual Pucks, Pans, and Coyotes.
The art itself is simple enough to lure in the kiddies right from the start, without ever becoming too simple or failing to convey the storyline. In the end, this book is one of the subtler discussions of race, racism, and trying to fit in. Fellow author Derek Kirk Kim is blurbed as saying, "As an Asian American, American Born Chinese is the book I've been waiting for all my life". The book goes beyond just the Asian American community, though. It's a smart witty treatise that needs to be read and understood by all kids. The best graphic novel of 2006 for children, bar none.
Another interesting thing about this book is that it’s a graphic novel and a well done one at that. Something definitely not expected was the humorous and colorful artwork used that makes it looks like a children’s book. Although the illustrator did a great job of making each page enjoyable and different with the characters facial expressions and actions.
The first storyline follows a monkey king who after being denied entrance to a party, becomes obsessed with changing his image to fit in with the human gods. Then Yang introduces Jin Wang, who is an American born Chinese kid who recently moved into a new town and is bullied for being asian. Lastly we are introduced to Danny, who has a stereotypical “fresh off the boat” cousin who joins him once a year in America. Although these seem like completely different stories, Yang concludes each one so that if you hadn’t read on of the stories you’d be clueless. After reading the book I realized that this story shares a lot of the same things with the movie Karate Kid (2010). In both cases the main character has moved into a new environment where they are considered to be different and are shamed because of their race. Eventually they both make a friend that will help them out.
Since this is classed as a Young Adult novel, I would recommend it for 13-17 year olds since I think that by then you would’ve experienced some of the situations in this book and be able to relate more with the character.
The ending of the story seems to me a little bit rushed where the three stories all of the sudden join together and stop. It’s a difficult thing to explain but when I finished the book my reaction was “that’s it?” I’d like to know what happens to Wei Chen and Jin Wang and maybe their futures. Does Jin Wang use his past experiences and pass it onto others? In conclusion I highly recommend taking the time to read this book.
The only issue I had with the kindle (6 inch) version was that the formatting was too small. I needed to pinch and enlarge to read the text and in some panels, move the image around.