Monday, February 02, 2009

American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang

Books Completed: 25
Completion Date: January 26, 2009
Pages: 240
Publication Date: September 5, 2006

Reason for Reading: Dewey's Reading Challenge. Graphic Novel Challenge.
A tour-de-force by rising indy comics star Gene Yang, American Born Chinese tells the story of three apparently unrelated characters: Jin Wang, who moves to a new neighborhood with his family only to discover that he’s the only Chinese-American student at his new school; the powerful Monkey King, subject of one of the oldest and greatest Chinese fables; and Chin-Kee, a personification of the ultimate negative Chinese stereotype, who is ruining his cousin Danny’s life with his yearly visits. Their lives and stories come together with an unexpected twist in this action-packed modern fable. American Born Chinese is an amazing ride, all the way up to the astonishing climax.
Dear Dewey,

Another letter so soon! I am on the ball or something! ha ha! I was actually surprised I got this book from the library so quickly, it normally takes me forever to get what I want. I do remember that you were the one that initially made me want to read this book, but I have seen a lot of good reviews since. In the opening paragraph of your review you say: "Readers of all sorts are really beginning to see the literary value of stories told with both words and pictures." I am actually one of those people. I have read more graphic novels just in January than I have ever. Part of it was joining the library and being able to get copies for free, but getting addicted to Fables was another added bonus. I plan to read a lot more in the future! I still don't like buying them because of the price and how fast I read them, but I can work around that.

I read a couple reviews where this book was not looked on highly at all. It seems that people need things to be complicated in order to handle difficult situations, but really, in its simplistic nature the author has written very well about the main issue in the book: identity. I think that anyone can really relate to the story, even if he addresses certain minority groups. Everyone has felt at some point in their life that they don't fit it and they are an outsider, so they take measures to become more like the 'normal' people. That is what the book addresses, but it is so much more than that.

The book is really short, but the author manages to write three different stories that come together in the end. The first story is about a monkey who has worked very hard to be like the rest of the gods, but when he attempts to attend a party for the gods he is laughed and ridiculed because he is a monkey and doesn't wear shoes. This has lasting affects on the monkey. Then, there is the second story about Jin Wang. Jin Wang is a Chinese-American boy who is trying very hard to fit in at his predominately white school. Then, the third story is about a Chinese boy who is cousins with a white boy named Danny and visits once a year. He is the stereotypical Chinese character, though, and he strongly embarasses his cousin on every visit.

Anyway, Dewey, this is my one of my favourite paragraphs from your review. I just don't think I could do it justice, so I am going to just quote you:
[O]ne of Jin’s classmates, a Japanese-American girl the bullies in the class call “chink,” which is a demeaning term for a Chinese person, not a Japanese person. The ignorance of some of Jin’s classmates is so deep that they can’t even get their racial slurs right. If you’re a woman like me, you may have been called names usually reserved for women. That’s pretty horrible, but imagine if the people degrading you with words paid so little notice to who you really are that they didn’t even use ugly words reserved for females, but instead called you names commonly used to insult men. With the former names, as awful as they are, you at least know that you’re not alone, that other women are called these names. With the latter, your femaleness is completely dismissed. Imagine how much damage something like that, happening day after day to a child, could do. How would that affect your sense of who you are?
That paragraph left me to think almost as much as the book did! You really raise some good points, so I think others should see what you had to say. Thanks for reading and recommending this book. I am glad I took the chance to read it. It really reaches people on many levels.

Until next time...


  1. I think this is one of those books to which the expression "deceptively simple" applies. It looks simple, but the more you think about it, the more you realize it really isn't. I loved it and I'm glad you did too!

  2. I liked this book too. I've written up a review for it, but dumped the draft about 3 times. I can't seem to explain it in a way that makes it apparent that there is so much more going on in the story. Maybe I will use Dewey's review questionnaire for this one, so my thoughts don't come off so jumbled.

    Another wonderful letter, glad you enjoyed this :)

  3. Nymeth: I know! It was a simple book, but not at the same time! I'm glad that I read it!

    Joanne: This review was really hard to write for me, too. If I hadn't been writing a Dewey-letter, I am not sure how successful I would have been!

  4. I read this book last year and loved it. You're review is great. I'm hosting the latest Dewey Books Challenge. Why don't you enter it?

  5. Anonymous1:47 PM

    I loved it. Here's my review:


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