American Born Chinese Book Blog

Book: Yang, Gene Luen. American Born Chinese. New York: First Second, 2006.

Genre: Graphic Novel, Fantasy.

Audience: 6th-12th grade.

Read-Alouds: This Read-Aloud deals with the theme of forgiveness.

The Second Read-Aloud shows how Jin’s class thought Suzy and Jin are the same race because both of them are Asian.

Summary: American Born Chinese, written by Gene Luen Yang, follows the story line of three perspectives; the Monkey King, Jin Wang, and Chin-Kee. The Monkey King, ruler of Flower Fruit Mountain, goes up to Heaven for a dinner party, but the guards won’t let him in because he is not wearing shoes. He sets out to become more powerful, and show everyone he’s more than a monkey. Jin Wang is a Chinese kid who trying to fit in. Him and his family have moved from San Francisco. Wei-Chen Sun and Jin Wang become friends and must face the trials of friendship and loyalty. The last story deals with how Danny deals with his supposed cousin, Chin-Kee, visiting from China. Through this novel, the characters must deal with acceptance of self, culture, friendship, and romance.

Themes: Forgiveness is a theme in this graphic novel. The Monkey King starts beating up beings with higher powers. Thus, the monkey is sentenced under a pile of rocks for five hundred years. After some time, a monk comes along and the Monkey King has to shrink back to his original form. The Tze-Yo-Tzuh forgave him for his cockiness by having the Monkey King follow the monk on his mission. Another scene that shows forgiveness is when Jin and Wei-Chen are drinking milk tea. When Wei-Chen offers to show Jin a better milk tea, this shows Jin is forgiven for kissing Suzy.

Another theme in the novel is friendship. When Jin first comes to MayFlower Elementary, he does not have friends and is met with stereotypes from teachers and peers. After Jin has been there for three months, he makes his first friend with a fifth grader. They are not close. Then, Wei-Chen asks to be Jin’s friend. Through their friendship, morals are questioned. Wei-Chen lies to Jin’s parents and stays on the phone with his mother for two hours to cover for Jin. Wei-Chen also counts on Jin to know that he and the blonde haired girl are in the sciene room’s closet.

Race is an important theme in this novel. This graphic novel deals with stereotypes of Chinese. Through the character of Chin-Kee, these stereotypes are addressed. When Chin-Kee is eating his lunch, he offers some to Danny. Danny looks disgusted with flied cat gizzards with noddles. Danny is constantly embarrassed to be seen with Chin-Kee. Chin-Kee plays a practical joke on a basketball player by peeing in his drink. Through Chin-Kee, awareness of stereotypes are seen.

Connections: This graphic novel can be taught in a unit addressing racial stereotypes or a unit that has to do with Immigration. This novel can be paired with one of the more classical novels such as Uncle Toms Cabin, The Bluest Eye, To Kill a Mockingbird or Huck Fin. Then, after reading one of those novels, the class could read American Born Chinese and compare. Both texts address themes of race and survival.

Reactions: I really enjoyed this novel. It took a few pages to get into the story, but, once I did, it was very interesting. I really like how the Monkey King, Chin-Kee, Jin, and Danny are intertwined. It was a nice spin on the story. I was very shocked at the end of the book with the twist. It left me wanting to read more. Throughout the novel, I found myself laughing at certain spots, such as the soap bubbles and the Herbalist telling the boy anything is possible if he forfeits his soul. I would suggest this book!

Reception: A person on Amazon.com states “American Born Chinese is a masterfully composed and drawn coming of age graphic novel about transcending racial stereotypes and the beauty of accepting yourself for who you truly are.” Through this novel, themes of racial stereotypes, accepting oneself, and coming of age are addressed.

On Webcomic Book Club Full Reviews, a person states “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.” The images in the this graphic novel are powerful and tell the story well. The reader states the book drew them in and was engaging.

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2 Responses to American Born Chinese Book Blog

  1. Allison, you chose some interesting texts to pair this book with. Can you think of any other books you’ve read that deal with the experience of Asian Americans? Or, other Young Adult Novels you could pair it with? The books you chose are “classic” texts (which is fine), I’m just wondering if you have other ideas.

  2. ajanacek says:

    There might have been some short stories I read in Introduction to World Literature that dealt with the experience of Asian Americans, but off the top of my head I can not think of any! The Art of Keeping Cool could be paired with this novel. Both texts have to do with moving to America. One could also examine a manga, which is a Japanese comic. After reading the manga, the class can discuss or question if there is anything in the graphic novel that portrays stereotypes.

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