Monday, January 22, 2007

American Born Chinese

Yang, Gene Luen. 2006. AMERICAN BORN CHINESE. New York: First Second. ISBN 1596431520 [Suggested Grades Levels 7-12]

What begins as three separate tales come together at the end of this remarkable graphic novel that becomes a modern fable. Jin Wang wants to fit in but as the only Chinese American in his school, he is constantly picked on, especially when he falls in love with a beautiful blonde all-American girl. The story of the Monkey King is one of the oldest and best known of the Chinese fables and the Monkey King is the most powerful monkey on earth. But he no longer wants to be monkey or a king—he wants to be a god. And Chin-Kee is the ultimate in negative stereotypes, a cartoon character at best. He’s also ruining his cousin Danny’s life with his yearly visits. Danny is a popular basketball player and has to change school every year after Chin-Kee visits. How these apparently unrelated tales come together in a climatic ending makes for a fascinating story and an exceptionally good read.

The full-color illustrations use muted colors to convey the story in this exceptionally well-drawn graphic novel. The book was one of the finalists for the National Book Award for Young Adult Literature.

Even those readers who are not especially fond of graphic novels will find this a pleasure to read. Unlike many of the other books in this genre, the content is suitable for the younger reader.

As an introduction to the graphic novel format or as a starting place for discussing prejudice, bullying, and stereotyping, this book is a winner.

Other novels about Chinese American immigration and adjustment:
Yep, Laurence. THE STARFISHER. ISBN 0140360034

Other autobiographical graphic novels:
Satrapi, Marjane. PERSEPOLIS. ISBN 037571457X
Siegel. Siena Cherson. TO DANCE: A BALLERINA'S GRAPHIC NOVEL. ISBN 0689867476

By Janet Hilbun

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