Sunday, December 4, 2011

American Born Chinese

American Born Chinese

Bibliographic Information:

Yang, G. (2006). American Born Chinese. New York: First Second. ISBN: 9781596431522.


Plot Summary:

A graphic novel that weaves the stories of 3 indviduals: Jin Wang, Danny, and a monkey king. All to tell one very beautiful story about cultural identity and fitting in.

Critical Analysis:

As mentioned in the plot summary, this narrative is told in 3 sects. Jin Wang, an American born Chinese boy that is transferred to what appears to be a small town where Asian stereotypes are all the student body knows about the culture, Danny who appears to be a popular, blond jock, but who has a cousin named Chin-Kee that fits an Asian stereotype, and then The Monkey King, the name is self explanatory.

Both The Monkey King and Jin Wang are pressured by conventional social norms to try and and conform to Anglo, or in the Monkey King's case, human pressures, and they both feel shame in who they are and where they come from. The third character Danny, who is white with an Asian cousin is really Jin Wang denying his heritage and trying to mainstream as white, with the annoying cousin Chin-Kee representing what he is trying to oppress. I don't think I gave anything away there and, the foreshadowing to that fact is littered throughout the graphic novel.

The author Gene Yang makes references to Asian folklore and traditions which leads one early on to believe that Danny is going to be Jin Wang in denial. Anyhow, the culmination of Asian folklore and myth as if it is common knowledge to the reader is really fascinating as well as adds a unique way of telling this age old story in modern terms.

The book also makes use of humor by exposing and over exaggerating Asian stereotypes and generalizations. The humor is over the top and ridiculous, which is the only way to approach the issue. For example, Chin-Kee brings "clispy flied cat gizzards wiff noodles", and wants to find an American girl with a nice bosom so that he can bind her feet and make little Chin-Kee's, etc.

I really loved this graphic novel and would recommend it to everyone, regardless of age, gender, or ethnicity. Especially at a younger age (6-26), I have seen friends and partners from ethnically diverse backgrounds try to blend in or hide their heritage. So, I see this graphic novel as one that is addressing a very real issue that everyone has come in contact with at one point in their lives.

This beautifully produced graphic novel contains three storylines which come together in a well-constructed final chapter. The first storyline concerns the classic Chinese tale of the Monkey King (Sun Wukong) and his egotistical quest to become a god above all others. The second storyline is a about a Taiwanese-American kid raised in San Francisco's Chinatown who moves with his family to the suburbs. There he tries to fit in at his new elementary school, and goes through the usual loneliness of the outsider, endures bullying, makes friends with the other two Asian kids, and falls in love with a pretty white girl. The third storyline is delivered as a tasteless sitcom about an all-American high-school boy whose life gets turned upside down when his bucktoothed stereotype of a Chinese cousin comes to visit. Although the tone is very different in each storyline, they all have something to say about being different and coming to terms with one's identity, and the way they morph into a single climax at the end is quite clever and effective. It's a nice book to give any kid who's struggling with trying to find their place in the nasty world. The artwork is very clean and simple, with traditional lettering, crisp colors, and very simple paneling (which is nicely framed by generous white space above and below). The printing is beautiful and the paper and binding is top-notch. -A. Ross (Reader's Review)

As alienated kids go, Jin Wang is fairly run-of-the-mill: he eats lunch by himself in a corner of the schoolyard, gets picked on by bullies and jocks and develops a sweat-inducing crush on a pretty classmate. And, oh, yes, his parents are from Taiwan. This much-anticipated, affecting story about growing up different is more than just the story of a Chinese-American childhood; it's a fable for every kid born into a body and a life they wished they could escape. The fable is filtered through some very specific cultural icons: the much-beloved Monkey King, a figure familiar to Chinese kids the world over, and a buck-toothed amalgamation of racist stereotypes named Chin-Kee. Jin's hopes and humiliations might be mirrored in Chin-Kee's destructive glee or the Monkey King's struggle to come to terms with himself, but each character's expressions and actions are always perfectly familiar. True to its origin as a Web comic, this story's clear, concise lines and expert coloring are deceptively simple yet expressive. Even when Yang slips in an occasional Chinese ideogram or myth, the sentiments he's depicting need no translation. 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. -Publishers Weekly

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