American Born Chinese Caitlin Book Blog

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

Genre: Young Adult Fiction, Graphic
Novel, Fantasy.

Audience: Grades 6-12

Read Aloud:

Summary: American Born Chinese is a graphic novel that eventually ties
together three stories. The first story revolves around the legend of The
Monkey King and his desperate hopes of becoming a god, different from being a
monkey. He wants to change so bad that he locks himself away and focuses on
learning the 12 disciplines. The second story follows a young boy names Jin
Wang who struggles with identity issues due to the fact he is one of the few
Chinese students in school dealing with constant racism. The third story talks
about Danny and his visit with his embarrassingly stereotypical cousin
Chin-Kee. The stories tie together at the end with Jin Wang and The Monkey King
finally accepting themselves for who they are and the changes that cannot be
made and they released Chin-Kee of his stereotypes he’d been stamped with.

Themes: Ethnicity is a very important
theme that runs through this book. Jin Wang struggles with his ethnicity in
school, knowing he’s a large minority and constantly faces racist slurs thrown
at him by his peers. He doesn’t have any friends, but for some reason believes
he is friends with the boys who bully him. His ethnicity is what keeps him from
trying to make friends because he believes nobody wants to be friends with a
Chinese person. Stereotypes are seen within this as well, with Chin-Kee having
his very own take out box of cat gizzards. Chin-Kee is also pictured as a bucktooth,
robe-wearing kid who refers to feet binding when he sees Danny’s crush at his

Identity is another theme we can see
clearly throughout this book. As I’ve mentioned before, Jin Wang struggles with
identity issues in his school because he feels he doesn’t belong simply because
of his ethnicity. He feels alienated from the rest of his peers and wants
desperately to fit in. He even goes as far as to get a perm in his hair to look
more like the other boys. The Monkey King has the same struggles, only he
struggles with identity issues between him and the gods. The gods won’t let him
into a dinner party because he is a monkey. This deeply offends and saddens
him. He wants to be like everyone else.

Connections: I believe this book would
fair very well in any English literature class because it is a quick read that
will keep the students interest and it deals with issues of identity, race,
bullying, etc. The history of the Chinese in 1880 is very important to learn
before this graphic novel is read in class. This can help students connect to
issues of racism going on today with the latin population as it relates to what
the Chinese population had to endure in history. If this book is used with
other texts that tackle racial discrimination then this can lead to group
discussions lead by the students, therefore allowing them to examine historical
events through literature and discussing what those historical events mean to
them today.

Reactions: I enjoyed reading this
graphic novel because I liked the idea of tackling racial discrimination and
using historical events to do so. Yang tied in so many references to historical
events that I was un-aware of until this class. I feel this graphic novel can
do the same for my students. I feel like I was in Jin Wang’s shoes as he walked
through school taking those below the belt racial blows he was so used to
hearing. I could feel his pain and his embarrassment for things he could not
change and wished everyone could understand that. Without this book, I don’t
think I would have even thought twice about what the Chinese population went
through in the late 1800s.

Reception: I like that Yang writes
about accepting who you are, which I feel is a strong message to young adults.
Here, a reviewer writes, “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”.

The Web Comic Book Club discusses American Born Chinese in their forum,
with one blogger writing, “Jin’s reactions to people and
surroundings were somewhat minimalist but very effective. The narrator didn’t
drone on about how he was feeling this way or that way. He narrated the
essentials and let the comic tell the bulk of the story”. I, too, enjoyed Jin’s
minimalistic ways of reacting to situations around him. It didn’t seemed
forces, rather very realistic.

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2 Responses to American Born Chinese Caitlin Book Blog

  1. Caitlin, I know that you really enjoy historical fiction. This is not exactly historical fiction, but how could you use it with historical fiction texts? Do you think there are similar traits or qualities?

  2. caitlinxmas says:

    Well American Born Chinese has references to American Chinese culture, so I could bring in historical facts about America and what was going on in the late 1800s early 1900s. There are plenty of historical fiction books that would be appropriate to use as well to further discuss the American Chinese issues that were happening in America.

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