American Born Chinese

All Jin Wang wants is to fit in...When his family moves to a new neighbourhood, he suddenly finds that he's the only Chinese-American student at his school. Jocks and bullies pick on him constantly, and he has hardly any friends. Then, to make matters worse, he falls in love with an all-American girl...born to rule over all the monkeys in the world, the story of the Monkey King is one of the oldest and greatest Chinese fables. Adored by his subjects, master of the arts of kung-fu, he is the most powerful monkey on earth. But the Monkey King doesn't want to be a monkey. He wants to be hailed as a god...Chin-Kee is the ultimate negative Chinese stereotype, and he's ruining his cousin Danny's life. Danny's a basketball player, a popular kid at school, but every year Chin-Kee comes to visit, and every year Danny has to transfer to a new school to escape the shame. This year, though, things quickly go from bad to worse...These three apparently unrelated tales come together with an unexpected twist, in a modern fable that is hilarious, poignant, and action-packed. American Born Chinese is an amazing ride, all the way up to the astonishing climax - and confirms what a growing number of readers already know: Gene Yang is a major talent. (Product description from FirstSecondBooks)

I’m going to toss the traditional review style out the window for this one. I decided to read American Born Chinese as part of the Dewey’s Books Challenge, and as part of the main challenge Softdrink is hosting a March Mini-Challenge. (Gotta love these challenges within a challenge, I’m sure Dewey would love them too!) So the rules and regulations that make up Softdrinks challenge are as follows: Do your review list style. Umm, yeah 1 rule that’s it, otherwise go nuts. Hah, I love lists!

First things first, here is where I first heard about this graphic novel:
  Hidden Side Of A Leaf … Dewey’s review.

Next, here’s linkage to some wonderful reviews of American Born Chinese:
  An Adventure In Reading
Book Nut
Everyday Reads
So Many Books, So Little Time
Stuff As Dreams Are Made On
Things Mean A Lot
Tripping Toward Lucidity
The Written World

Take a look at the amazing awards and nominations these books received:
  2006 CYBIL Graphic Novel Award Winner
2006 National Book Award Finalist
2006 NPR Holiday Pick
2006 Publishers Weekly Best Children's Books of the Year
2006 Publisher's Weekly Comics Week Best Comic of the Year
2006 School Library Journal Best Books of the Year
2007 American Library Association Best Books for Young Adults
2007 Books for the Teen Age, New York Public Library
2007 Eisner Award Winner
2007 Harvey Award, Best Colorist to Lark Pien
2007 Michael L. Printz Award Winner
2007 YALSA Great Graphic Novel for Teens, Top Ten List
Bank Street Best Children's Book of the Year
Booklist Editors' Choice
Booklist Top 10 Graphic Novel for Youth
Chinese American Librarians Association Best Book Award
Library Media Editor's Choice
Reuben Award Winner
San Francisco Chronicle Best Book of the Year

How about some blurbs found around the book news world:
  With vibrant colors and visual panache, indie writer-illustrator Yang focuses on three characters in tales that touch on facets of Chinese American life.” --- Booklist Online

Kids fighting an uphill battle to convince parents and teachers of the literary merit of graphic novels will do well to share this title.” --- The Bulletin Of The Center For Children’s Books

The art blends the clean lines of anime with a bold American palette. Yang is equally adept at depicting a high school cafeteria and the Monkey King’s fantastical realm.” --- The New York Times Book Reviews

Yang accomplishes the remarkable feat of practicing what he preaches with this book: accept who you are and you'll already have reached out to others.” --- Publisher's Weekly

Like Toni Morrison's The Bluest Eye and Laurence Yep's Dragonwings, this novel explores the impact of the American dream on those outside the dominant culture in a finely wrought story that is an effective combination of humor and drama.” --- School Library Journal

This graphic novel could be especially cathartic for teens and adults of Asian descent, but people of any ethnicity would find themselves reflected in the universal themes of self-acceptance, peer pressure, and racial tensions.” --- VOYA

This graphic novel uses three separate plot-lines to create one full story. Here are the details on each of them:
    The first story introduces us to the Monkey King, who is indeed King of the Monkeys. But when he goes to a party the Gods/Deities gathered there basically make a joke of the Monkey King’s appearance. This pisses him off majorly and he decides that being King isn’t enough – he wants the power and greatness to rule everything, which he doesn’t realize at the time means completely recreating himself and losing his true self in the process. This story arc is used very well in creating a framework for the other two tales  to rest. It is also based upon a traditional folk-tale (more info can be found here.) 

  The second story is the main story and centers around Jin Wang, a Chinese boy living in present day USA. Jin experiences some problems due to his ethnic background and feels like he doesn’t fit in. Later he becomes friends with a boy from Taiwan who displays no awkwardness about his Asian heritage, but this  bothers Jin Wang sometimes. I found this part of the book the most compelling as we get to experience some of the emotional and intellectual arguments Jin goes through while trying to get a clear idea of just who he really is, regardless of what he appears to be on the outside. It brings up a lot of thoughts on the subject of acceptance – not from others, but from yourself. 

In the final part we are introduced to Danny, a middle-class white boy who lives in dread of the yearly visits from his cousin Chin-Kee. This third of the story uses Chin-Kee to embody every racial misconception that has probably ever been mentioned about the Chinese race. It’s almost painful to read, Chin-Kee is presented as a buck-toothed, cat-eating, karaoke-singing moron. And it really makes a person wonder how in this day and age we could ever be so cruel to other human beings, or so stupid.

A really sad example of how horrible racial misconceptions can spread:
  A few years back I was sitting enjoying some drinks with a group of friends, (not all of us were white) and we were talking about where in the city would be a nice place to rent. A certain building was mentioned that is both gorgeous and affordable, it also happens to be next door to a popular Chinese food restaurant that we all agreed has delicious food. It was at that moment that one of the people said something that I couldn’t believe I was hearing - “Yeah it would be a awesome place to live, just make sure you keep your cat indoors or she’ll end up as take-out.” I was completely blown away, not only by the fact that a well-educated, socially aware person would say this, but also by the fact that more than half the people there laughed. A couple sitting a few tables over didn’t laugh and when I glanced them leaving I realized they were both Asian. I’ll be the first to admit that yes I have taken part in my fair share of off-colour jokes, but after that I began to see how things we say have an impact on those around us. That couple in the bar that night were treated unfairly by having to hear that joke. And if a person is willing to say these things around strangers, what’s stopping them from making racial jokes around their kids – and that in my opinion is how these racial stereo-types maintain their strength in our society. It may be a joke to some, but to others it’s not, especially to children who only see that something makes people laugh and don’t fully understand what exactly the laughs are implying.

About The Author
Gene Yang began drawing comic books in the fifth grade.  In 1997, he received the Xeric Grant, a prestigious comics industry grant, for Gordon Yamamoto and the King of the Geeks, his first comics work as an adult.  He has since written and drawn a number of titles, including Duncan's Kingdom (with art by Derek Kirk Kim) and The Rosary Comic Book.   He lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with his lovely wife, Theresa, and son, Kolbe, and teaches computer science at a Roman Catholic high school.
Title: American Born Chinese Book Type: Hardcover 240 pages
Author: Gene Luen Yang Publisher: First Second
Book Genre: Graphic Novel / YA Publication: October 2007

© 2008-2010 Joanne Mosher of The Book Zombie. All rights reserved.


Lightheaded said...

Oh, this is just a fun post to read!

Chris said...

This was such a flippin cool review! I loved it :D And I loved this book. It really was fantastic. I had no idea it was nominated/won so many awards! I knew about the Printz but that was it!

An Anonymous Child said...

I've been wanting to read this for a while, but unfortunately my local library doesn't have it... I hope I'll eventually get an opportunity to read it - I've only heard good things.

bermudaonion said...

This is a fabulous review. Your blog has so much eye appeal, too!

Nymeth said...

Wow, that's a lot of awards and nominations. And no wonder! All well-deserved. And thanks for sharing that story. We have a big community of Chinese immigrants in my town, so I hear jokes/remarks like that very often. It might be tempting to laugh them off, to see them as harmless, but they're not, really.

Zibilee said...

I really liked the style of this review. The book sounds interesting as well, what with the three stories going on at once. Thanks for posting this!

chartroose said...

My God, this is really good Joanne! I was riveted.

I'm going to make a copy of it so I can use it as a template for one of my future reviews.

Darla D said...

Great review! I've been meaning to read this one for ages. I need to get to it soon!

Alyce said...

Great review! You included so much interesting information in this post. I was planning on reading this book this year anyway, but didn't know that it was one that Dewey had read. It will be nice to add another book to my list for the Dewey's Books challenge.

Trish said...

I didn't realize this one had won so many awards!! I just added this to my Amazon wishlist, so I'll have to make sure I can get to it soon.

gautami tripathy said...

Great way to learn about a book! Loved reading it!

Here is my list for the mini challenge

Anonymous said...

Lists within lists! You get an A+++. :-D

alisonwonderland said...

Fabulous post! (I'm sad I didn't find it sooner!)

Anonymous said...

I love reading your website because you can constantly get us new and cool stuff, I think that I should at least say thanks for your hard work.

- Henry