February 6, 2009

Review: American Born Chinese by Gene Luan Yang

Hello everyone, Olga from Get Thee to a Punnery!

Forgive me if this review is short; I made the mistake of reading this and then avoiding the review like it was made of plague until today. Part of the reason is because I’m lazy. Another part is because I sort of lost my drive and zeal for reading and have been overdosing on Dog, the Bounty Hunter.

But I’m back, baby!

So what can I tell you about American Born Chinese? Yang’s graphic novel is actually three stories in one. The first is a mythical folk tale about The Monkey King, who, despite being a powerful god, is laughed at by the other gods. The second tale is of Jin Wang, a Chinese-American boy who endures the pressures of being a minority in his new school. And finally, the third story follows the life of a white boy named Danny and his Chinese cousin Chin-Kee, who visits every year to wreck havoc on Danny’s life. Chin-Kee is the ultimate in Chinese stereotype—his dialogue is written phonetically, his clothing is stereotypically Chinese (right down to the conical hat); Yang is almost vicious in his depiction of Chin-Kee—the words of all Chinese stereotypes embody the character.

These three stories appear to run parrallel together, but at the end the characters begin to appear in each other’s stories.

I don’t know much about Chinese-American culture, but I can understand the pressures of wanting to be someone you are not. I think everyone has at some point in their life longed for something different, but it’s not possible to change who you are fundamentally.

Deep down, the story of American Born Chinese is that you should accept your heritage, and love your family and friends, no matter what their culture is. It may take a demi-god Monkey disguised as a Chinese stereotype to knock that into you, but ultimately you can’t run away from who you are.

It’s an old lesson, but it’s told in a unique way with lovely cartoon graphics, and a fun set of stories. I felt like I learned a bit more about what it’s like to be Chinese in America.

A good graphic novel, and I would even recommend it for children. The lesson is easy to grasp and the story moves quickly enough that you can share it with your kids.

Rating: Four stars

1 comment:

Dani in NC said...

You made a good point in your review. Kids can find something to identify with in this book, no matter what their heritage is.