Saturday, January 23, 2010

1st Graphic Novel of the Year - American Born Chinese

Even before I started my obsession with Graphic Novels, I had planned on reading Gene Luen Yang's American Born Chinese (233 pgs., First Second Books, 2006). Not only did it win the Michael L. Printz award in 2007, but so many other bloggers have read and loved it, including Dewey, our beloved friend. So....I'm not only using this as a selection for the 2010 Graphic Novel Challenge, but also as a notch on the perpetual Printz Challenge.

One bright and starry night, the Gods, the Goddesses, the Demons, and the Spirits gathered in Heaven for a dinner party.

This book, told in Graphic Novel format, contains 3 separate tales:

The first tale is the legendary Chinese fable of The Monkey King. The Monkey King was the ruler of all the monkeys on the Flower-Fruit Mountain. When the Gods were having their dinner party, he tried to attend. But because he was a monkey (and didn't wear shoes) he was denied admittance. This changed the Monkey King. He was embarrassed by it, and decided to change himself. He required all monkeys to wear shoes. He studies the 12 disciplines of kung fu to become more than just a monkey. In fact, he transforms himself into a different type of deity all together.

The second tale is about Jin, an American-Born Chinese. His parents immigrated from China and met in college. Jin's mom told him the reason she chose to marry Jin's father. "Of all the PhD. students at the university, he had the thickest glasses. Thick glasses meant long hours of studying. Long Hours of studying meant a strong work ethic. A strong work ethic meant a high salary. A high salary meant a good husband." When Jin is 9, his family moves out of Chinatown, and Jin has to start a new school. Where he is different; the outsider. He suffers from bullies and bouts of embarrassment over his culture.

The final tale is of Danny, the American boy that has a Chinese cousin, named Chin-Kee. Chin-Kee is the epitome of a negative Chinese stereotype. He has buck teeth, a thick accent, and even eats cats. Danny is so embarrassed by Chin-Kee's yearly visits that he has to switch schools every year.

What can be said about this beautiful little book that hasn't already been said?? It truly is a masterpiece. We follow Jin through grade school, where he befriends the student, Wei-Chen, who has just arrived from Taiwan. At first, Jin tries to ignore the other student, but when the two boys start talking about toys (Transformers), they soon become best friends.

The 3 stories eventually come together, all related in a surprisingly beautiful ending. It is basically the story of loving the person that you are. And if you try to change yourself to fit another's persons image of how you "should" be, then you will eventually lose yourself. It sounds deep, and it is. But it is told with a light-hearted humor and really great pictures. Just a small example:

"The only other Asian in my class was Suzy Nakamura. When the class finally figured out that we weren't related, rumors began to circulate that Suzy and I were arranged to be married on her thirteenth birthday. We avoided each other as much as possible."

Not only is this a wonderful tale that highlights the pain of stereotyping and racism, but also teaches a lesson on self-appreciation and self-awareness. An incredibly quick read (I was finished in about an hour), American Born Chinese is absolutely a must-read. Warm, heart-breaking and yet uplifting, this is one book that I can not truly recommend enough. And for anyone that ever says Graphic Novels are just "comic" books, I think you have a lesson waiting for you. A true 5 Star read!!! 5/5


Amanda said...

The Chin-Kee sections of this made me really, really uncomfortable. While I understood why they were necessary and how they all came together at the end, I don't think I ever fully recovered from my horror at first seeing that stereotype and hence don't think of this book too fondly. Not that I disliked it, it was just so-so for me.

Nymeth said...

I'm glad you loved it too, Stephanie! I thought that the way he exposed and subverted stereotypes was so clever and so well done.

PS: I DO think graphic novels are comics (it's the name of the medium, after all), but I don't think comics are or ever were "just" comics :P

Debi said...

So glad you enjoyed it! I thought everything about it was simply brilliant, and I have to admit that I was totally caught off guard by the way the stories came together.

samantha.1020 said...

Sounds like a fantastic read! Great review and thanks for sharing your thoughts on it. And happy belated birthday!!

Kailana said...

I really liked this book. I read it last year.

Melody said...

I finished this last week and enjoyed it!!! I thought the overall idea of this story is brilliant!

Jan von Harz said...

While I have yet to read any of the graphic novels (I am working through this) I loved your review, and will look for this one. Thanks for sharing

Bookfool said...

This is my absolute favorite graphic novel, so far. Not that I've read that many, but I thought it was funny, clever and meaningful.

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