Yang, Gene Luen. American Born Chinese. New York: First Second, 2006.
Genre: Young Adult Graphic Novel
Audience: 6th-12th grade.
Read-Aloud: Link to the read aloud
Summary: American Born Chinese tells three separate stories throughout the graphic novel. One story is about the Monkey King. He decides to go to a party in heaven where all of the spirits and gods and demons were gathered. When he gets there, he is laughed at because he is a monkey, so he becomes a feared, powerful monkey that wreaks havoc until God comes and traps him under rocks. The other two stories take place in a high school. One tells the story of a young boy named Jin Wang who is friends with another Chinese student. The two of them go through the troubles of young love, while the other story is kind of the same with a boy named Danny that likes a girl. This is interrupted by his obnoxious Chinese cousin Chin-kee, that comes to visit him once a year.
Themes: A major theme throughout this book is identity. Jin Wang turns into Danny in the middle of the book. Chin-kee is actually the Monkey King that is trying to help Danny see that he should not be ashamed of where he came from. The Monkey King went through a tough time finding his identity as well. He wore shoes because he did not want to be thought of as a monkey. He also changed his form until he was told by the monk that in order to escape the rock trap, he had to change back into a monkey.
Another theme in this book is friendship. Jin Wang and Wei-Chen Sun become friends but are driven apart by a foolish act by Jin. When they are apart from each other, they both assume new identities. Jin transforms back into Jin when the Monkey King tells him of Wei-Chen Sun’s true identity. When Jin and Wei-Chen meet at the diner, Wei-Chen has also changed into someone he is not. When they become friends again, both of them seem to accept that they are Chinese Americans will not change again.
Connections: This book makes a lot of statements about the way Americans view Chinese people in our society. The teacher always gets the information of the new students wrong. She says their names wrong and assumes that Jin came straight from China. Chin-kee is also an over the top stereotypical representation of the negative views Americans have on Chinese people. Because he is so over the top, Chin-kee is not a funny character but rather a reminder that our stereotypes that we think of in Chinese people are not true. Nobody acts the way Chin-kee does, so we should not get the idea that he is an accurate portrayal of a Chinese person, even though that character has a lot of similarities with the ways in which people make fun of people from China.
Reactions: I loved this book. It makes a lot of statements about stereotypes and being who you are. I like books that motivate students to not be afraid of being themselves and not changing for anyone and this book does just that. I would definitely teach this book in class. It would be a good book to teach in a culturally diverse school, as well as rural majority white schools because it gives them some knowledge of the Chinese people and helps us see that our stereotypes we place on these people are grossly inaccurate and we need to stop thinking about them in that way.
Reception: A review by The Graphic Classroom talks about how American Born Chinese can be used to teach double consciousness which when one’s identity is divided into two opposing sides. It also talks a lot about how the book can be used to teach anti racial bullying in schools.
Another review by Chris’s Invincible Super-Blog talks about how the three stories intertwine. He says “the actual effect of Yang bringing them together–not just thematically in the way that each story deals with someone rejecting a part of their identity–was, for me, something a lot closer to mind-blowing.”