Book Blog: American Born Chinese
Book: Gene Luen Yang. American Born Chinese. New York: First Second, 2006. http://geneyang.com/american-born-chinese
Genre: Fictional Graphic Novel
Audience: Grades 9-12
American Born Chinese, tells an interwoven story about three people who are challenged with the influences of Asian cultures. The Monkey King, Jin, and Danny tell their stories independently of each other. The Monkey King and Jin are trying to rid themselves of their inborn characteristics. The Monkey American Boy. Danny, is on the other end of the spectrum, he is the All American Boy. He is popular and has a great reputation. This all changes when his cousin Chin-Kee comes to stay with his family. Yang creates these three stories and it is at the end when we see their commonalities. Yang brilliantly displays the themes in this novel quietly and allows the reader to create their own thoughts and beliefs about each situation.
The most predominant theme in this novel is racial prejudices. Each character is displayed in a way to expose the stereotypes their particular character is experiencing. Danny is extremely upset when his cousin Chin-Kee starts attending his school because he embodies all of the stereotypes that are too often associated with the Chinese culture. The basic assumptions that Jin was from China when he began attending his new school are things that students deal with everyday. Students who are look or act differently than the “typical” American are ridiculed and treated poorly solely because of their appearances. When Jin comes to his new school, one student goes so far as to ask if he eats dogs. These types of comments are realistic and do happen to students in today’s schools.
Ethnic Identity is another theme in this graphic novel. Each character depicted in this story is struggling with the way they are perceived by others. Danny is upset because he is associated with his cousin, who embodied the extremely common stereotypes Asians’ have to deal with today. The Monkey King refused to believe that he is a monkey and Jin wants to be just like everyone else and pretend that he does not have any Chinese heritage. All of the characters want to assimilate into the American Culture. They want to throw their own cultures and backgrounds by the way side to fit in with the other students. The age these characters are at is crucial to the story because having a sense of belonging and acceptance is extremely important and they are willing to do anything to feel that they are accepted.
This novel is unlike any that I have ever read before. The way Yang represents the Asian characters in this novel is authentic. He displays in Chin-Kee many on the negative stereotypes that many people truly think all Chinese people look like and behave like. He puts these actions on the back burner and focuses of the story on the characters themselves and how the actions and beliefs of others affect their everyday lives. Teaching the history of the Asian culture is crucial for students to be able to understand how these stereotypes and discrimination acts have come to be in today’s society. There are also messages and hints in the images that students would not understand if attention and explanation was not brought to them by the teacher. This book requires a lot of discussions about the characters and actions in this novel. An understanding of the history of the Asian Americans and of the battles and publications of the past is vital to telling Gene Luen Yang’s story.
I was completely surprised by the issues and depictions in this novel. The ways Yang depicts his characters with humor but makes the reader ask, “Why is this funny?” was a new feeling for me. I caught myself questioning why certain situations are made to be humorous. And at what expense? These actions and feelings are completely inappropriate but they are still common and prevalent in society today. The small amount of change in feelings towards non-European looking individuals is mind blowing. It takes a young adult novel like this to open the eyes and perceptions of today’s society.
American Born Chinese, has been met with mixed reviews. Blogs and reader reviews from the Asian population have been outraged at the depictions made in this novel. However, critics reviews and those who have taken time to understand and study the novel have loved and appreciated the work. “a big part of me feels like this is the best graphic novel I’m ever going to read. It didn’t make me cry (though I’m an easy mark), and it didn’t make me laugh out loud (see above), but Yang did one simple thing very, very well: he told an exceptionally honest and endearing story in a beautiful and memorable way.” http://hplgraphicnovels.wordpress.com/2011/06/22/american-born-chinese/