February 10, 2009

Review: American Born Chinese

Graphic novelist Gene Yang describes his book American Born Chinese as three stories in one: a realistic portrayal of a Chinese American boy growing up in a predominantly white suburb, a series of stories based on a Chinese Monkey King legend, and "a sit-com starring everybody's favorite racial stereotype, Cousin Chin-Kee." The three stories blend together and play off each other to make one of the funniest and most meaningful graphic novels I've read.

I didn't expect to like the Monkey King sequences as much--generally I go for the realism--but Yang is one of those geniuses when it comes to facial expressions and body language, and the Monkey King himself is, dare I say it? Adorable. The way that story ties into the Chin-Kee story at the end was a total surprise to me. I loved it.

My older son read this as well, and the Monkey King sections were his favorite part. He thought the walking stereotype Chin-Kee was "just weird,"--at 12, he understands stereotyping but hadn't been exposed to this one enough to appreciate its portrayal in the novel. And, as a young white boy, I think a lot of the nuances of Chin-Kee's American cousin Danny's story went over his head as well.

More thoughts, an excerpt, and a fun video on Worducopia

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