American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang
Color by Lark Pien
Yang creates a mini, modern-day epic about the experiences of Jin, a boy born in American from Chinese immigrant parents. American Born Chinese garnered many awards, including the American Library Association’s Michael J. Printz Award for Excellence in Young Adult Literature, and appears on many YA top ten lists.
The reader follows him from his first day at a new elementary school through the awkward middle school years. Jin is ostracized by his young classmates because of his race and doesn’t make a true friend until he meets a new classmate, Wei-Chen Sun, who has just immigrated from Taiwan. Jin struggles with trying to fit into the white culture, especially after he discovers he fancies a white girl named Amelia. To his dismay, no matter how hard he tries, Jin can never change what skin he’s in.
Parallel to Jin’s story are two other threads in American Born Chinese: a retelling of a popular Chinese folktale about the Monkey King, and look at the life of a white teenager named Danny who endures humiliation every year when his stereotypically off-the-boat cousin Chin-Kee visits from China. Though disparate in time and place, the three stories all offer characters that are unhappy with who they are born to be, and go to measures to try to reinvent themselves.
American Born Chinese tells a universal story of coming to terms with one’s heritage, and all the baggage that comes along with it. Moreover, it does it in such a way that is realistic, easy to sympathize with, and sometimes poignant. Yang and Pien create an inspired combination of text and visuals that literally breaks the barriers of the frames to enhance an already excellent storyline.
This graphic novel is highly recommended for young adult readers. It was a very quick read (I’m an adult and it took me about an hour to 90 minutes to read), and kept my attention nicely. The racist remarks may be something to weigh when considering for younger readers, but these comments serve to exaggerate and dispel stereotypes, not to perpetuate them.
Gutter Geek did a thorough review of American Born Chinese here.
Have you read American Born Chinese? What did you think?