This book is a truly stellar contribution to the graphic novel genre. Jin Wang's coming-of-age story is pitch-perfect in its attention to visual detail as well as its "feel" for adolescent dialogue. Not content to tell this story "straight," Gene Yang introduces two other narratives -- those of the legendary Monkey King and of the sitcom characters Danny and Chin-Kee -- to add multiple layers of meaning to Jin's struggles to fit in.
It shoud be noted that, even though Yang balances three stories (which ultimately converge) in this book, Jin's story serves as the emotional core of the novel. The Monkey King's and Chin-Kee's stories represent different poles of Jin's identity as a Chinese American -- extreme, identity-negating self-reliance, on the one hand, and extreme, caricatured self-hatred, on the other. The novel does a brilliant job of drawing us into the world of a teenager who engages these extremes as a matter of "growing up Asian American" -- a paradoxical subject of repulsion and desire, exclusion and belonging.
Don't get me wrong, though: while Yang's themes are undeniably powerful, his writing is just really, really funny. The Monkey King is raucously self-involved; Chin-Kee is both sad and strangely self-aware of his own caricaturedness (i.e., his "kung fu" moves are all named after "Chinese" dishes, like "Mooshu Fist"), and one scene involving Jin, bathroom soap, and his love interest Amelia had me in stitches. Which is to say it's nice to see that important themes of identity and cultural belonging can be explored in such a playful manner.
Credit to Yang, then, for not taking himself so seriously, and for giving us a profound meditation on "growing up ethnic" that looks, sounds, and *feels* right.