Book: Yang, Gene Luen. American Born Chinese. China: Jacket Art, 2006.
Genre: Graphic Novel/ Young Adult fiction/fantasy
Read Aloud: finallyyyy
Audience: 6th-9th grade
Summary: This graphic novels highlights the lives of 3 characters separately, each influencing the others lives in the end. The first main character is a monkey king, who rules all monkeys in the world, yet strives for acceptance as a god and not just ruler of the monkeys. The second character is Jin Wang, a meek mannered boy trying to find acceptance amongst his peers though he is the only chinese-american boy in his school. The third is Chin-Kee, a character who fits most stereotypes our society places upon those of asian decent. They each have different feats they are trying to accomplish and through the use of their surroundings and other characters that they encounter slowly their lives are pieced together and each influences the outcomes of the goals they have set for themselves while being connected to each other in unexpected ways.
Stereotypes is a theme that is very evident throughout this graphic novel. The characters who are of chinese decent are portrayed as unaccepted by members of the american society, each have names that are unfamiliar to their peers such as Chin-kee, Jin Wang, and Wei-Chen, and they also are depicted as eating dogs, cats, noodles, and rice. Stereotypes of the chinese often include names such as these, eating animals not familiar to american society, being outcasted, while only befriending those of similar decent. Also asians are often seen as very smart, which is used by this author in the fact that Chin-Kee is very smart and excels in academics. Also the language used is choppy and reminds me of how asian-americans are often mocked by how they speak.
Fitting in is another theme that is portrayed in each of the 3 characters stories. The monkey king at first is outcasted by the gods at a dinner party and goes to great lengths to prove himself as a god instead of just a ruler of the monkeys. Danny is a character in Chin-Kees story who feels embarrassed by Chin-Kee and how he acts different from his peers. He feels that Chin-Kee is the reason he does not have a girlfriend or many friends and changes school each year because of this. Jin Wang has never felt accepted by his peers and struggles with being the only chinese-american in his school. When his friend Wei-Chen moves to his school district it is first and only friend, yet he struggles to be accepted by others, including a girl he has a crush on. Each character lives each day trying to find their place within the world they live in and make drastic changes to them in an attempt to find their place.
Connections: The theme of not fitting in helps me connect this book to many books that are written for young adults. Children often spend most of their adolescence trying to find their niche in this world, which is also present in this novel. I also made the connection to Half World because both of these novels use myths and fables from asian societies as a basis for their story. The culture of Japan and China are very prevalent in both of these novels and much of the stories revolve around believes that are held because of deities and other worlds. I would like to include a unit on the history of chinese fables and myths in combination with this novel so that my students have a better understanding of how they influence this text, which i would have also done with Half World.
Reactions: I really liked this novel and would definitely include it in my classroom if I had the choice. I loved how all of the characters came together in the end and ultimately effected their reality beyond what they could have ever believed. I thought the way the book was segmented kept me interested in what I was reading. It was easy for me to connect with each of the characters and I liked that myths and fables were included but the author also included topics young adults can connect with, such as romance and acceptance.
A reader who reviewed this book gave it about an 8.5 out of 10 and enjoyed the art because it was simple yet pleasant to look at. He felt the characters were all compelling and easy to connect with. He liked the history aspect as well as the modern aspect of the novel.
“Dooka. Its time for Salen’s Comic Review.”
“No funny intros this week, since I’m sort of behind on getting this review going… American Born Chinese is a really cool comic. Its not as long or established as other comics I’m familiar with, but what it lacks in content, it makes up for with being just really neat. Yeah, I know thats not very professional sounding, but its just a very neat comic.”
Art: “The art is really nice, clean, and is just very pleasant to look at. The artwork specifically revolving around the Monkey King really feel very appropriate, seeing as the Monkey King legend is an old story. But more on that later. But in the end… its very easy to just appreciate the comic for its art…”
Characters: “Characters, there are a few. Most of the important ones seem to jump out at you, in the amount of screen time they seem to get, but even then, all the characters get the same artistic touch to show that each is important, even if they’re just scenery. But since the comic seems to have two distinctive ‘stories’ going on, the characters end up splitting their ‘screentime’ up. I really can’t fault anyone of the characters on the way they act, or react. The Monkey King’s sort of ‘focused’ but I would assume that would have more to do that the Monkey King’s legend showed him in much the same way. And the other characters in the ‘modern’ half of the story seem just to be average people, with concerns. Sure, they might not be important to us, but not everything is, and so showing that they’re just ‘regular’ types is good.”
Story: “This should read “Stories”. There are two distinct stories, as far as I can tell. The Monkey King legend, and the more modern half of the story. The stories themselves seem mixed up. With one taking over, then the other. Its sort of like pulling lots out of a hat as to what we’ll see next. But since the comic seems to still be in the early process of building up its own content, and helping set the comic, perhaps this is just one of those things where the stories will show some sort of similiarity or lesson or something. Or perhaps not. Either way, even with the confusion of which story line you get, its not that hard to get into the next one.”
Writing: “Weeee. Writing! There be words here! But me, I’ll skip them to tell you that the writing just seems to be pretty good. At points, it really is funny. And making me laugh once in a while is a good thing. Its actually pretty pleasant to read the comics. I never once felt I was having material go over my head or just rambled to. Combine that with the rest, and well… its really good. Dook.”
Overall: “In summary… This comic is pretty cool. Its not very long right now, so you don’t have to read a TON of comics to get up to date, and the stories are neat to both read and look at. Really, read this comic. Its nifty.”
Score: 8.5 Staff Wielding Monkeys out of 10.
Another reader on the same site liked the book but he did not think it was exceptional. It was to the point and short which he appreciated but he felt the plot could have been further developed. He gave the novel a 7 out of 10.
A review of American Born Chinese
By Kajamir the Giant
Our fourth selection from Modern Tales greets me a bit better than the previous ones. Although it’s really quite short, I thought the writing and the illustrations were on the good side of things; both pleasant to behold and reasonably drawing the reader in.
“I’m not truly clear what the general premise of American Born Chinese is thus far. It featured three seperate characters… one, a young Chinese boy growing up in America, the second being a nifty tale about the Monkey King, and the third is about an awful but admittedly humorous stereotype about a chinese immigrant. All three of these characters exploits are enjoyable in some fashion, yet they all feature very different settings and themes. The comic header shows them seemingly as main attractions, but I wonder if there will be more things shown later on. I get the feeling something ties them together, but it escapes me currently.
I didn’t have any problems with the writing or art here. That’s not to say they’re superior, but they come across pretty good. I particularly liked the smooth linework of the b/w art. It’s eye candy for me.
For a review, I’d prefer a slight bit more material to read over, but I’m content with what I see so far. If anything, I’d prefer a more apparent direction with the strip manifest soon, but that’s about it. I give American Born Chinese a 7 of 10 stars. Looks like a bright future from this perspective.”