American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang

American Born Chinese
Gene Luen Yang

Three seemingly different threads of stories actually comprise a whole, only it doesn't look that way at first.

It starts with a folk tale from China called the Monkey King. Aah, the Monkey King. I remember watching a movie or something once starring Thomas Gibson titled The Monkey King. I don't remember much except that it starred Thomas Gibson. And the costumes. Or that some people were in costumes. Darn. But I digress. I'm not familiar with the story of The Monkey King but in this graphic novel it seems we meet him at the start of the tale.

It shifts to the States where Jin Wang, a son of two Chinese nationals who emigrated there, just transferred to a school where he is the only student of Chinese-descent. That until he meets Wei-Chen from Taiwan.

Then there's the panels where it seems we are watching a situational comedy with a Chinese relative visiting an all-American boy named Danny, making the latter totally ashamed.

The three threads somehow make one beautiful pattern in the end which obviously I won't spoil for you. The story is not titled American Born Chinese just because, right?

It's basically a story about fitting in; the Monkey King not wanting to admit he's a monkey but a god, Jin Wang is an American-born Chinese trying to fit in to his new school and his only friend is an immigrant from Taiwan named Wei-Chen, and the Danny thread with his shamefaced thoughts of having his Chinese relative spoil his perfect, all-American life.

Fitting in is difficult everywhere, more so when one reaches adolescence. You don't have to be an immigrant or descended from an immigrant to know that. But it gets more difficult if you try to fit in with a different culture, with a different set of values and this is apparent in Jin Wang's case. There are and always will be stereotypes no matter how much we all try to steer clear from them.

Lovely way to bring all the tension and difficulties of growing up Chinese-American in the States without losing the Chinese identity behind.

This book won the Michael L. Printz Award in 2007.