The Flooze's Reviews > American Born Chinese

American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang
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Feb 13, 2009

really liked it
bookshelves: owned, graphic_novel, lit-fiction, fantasy, vanquished_2011, ya_teen
Read from October 05 to 08, 2011 , read count: 1

The last book I read ended with the fierce hope that all of us might break free of the prisons of our own making, allowing us to embrace the beauty of the world with open hearts and minds. Interestingly, American Born Chinese expresses a very similar theme - though it does make the message more personal.

Consisting of three distinct stories, Yang’s graphic novel focuses most strongly on the acceptance of self. The main characters of these tales have identity issues galore. Jin, Danny, and the Monkey King yearn to transform themselves into what they perceive as a more revered state. For Jin and Danny that means disassociating from their heritage, rejecting and resenting anything that singles them out as “Other.” The Monkey King also wishes to detach himself from his true form, longing instead to be an immortal deity who’s allowed to play in the realms of the higher powers. In each case, the character’s dissatisfaction with his lot causes him to behave in cruel and selfish ways.

Yang’s stories and characters will resonate with anyone who’s ever felt out-of-place and out-of-synch with his surroundings - children of immigrants especially. Reconciling cultural traditions with American mores presents a challenge, one often found too daunting. In an effort to blend in with the crowd, they often reject vast portions of their essential selves. Jin, Danny, and the Monkey King clearly fall into this category.

As you can imagine, all this inner turmoil doesn’t bear positive results. Yang’s characters have far to fall and hard lessons to learn before they can find their way towards self-acceptance. But they do find it. A final twist reveals the interconnectedness of all things, with the implication that we are who we’re intended to be and it’s damaging to ignore that.

There are many humorous moments in American Born Chinese: I chuckled aloud at some of the teenage antics, and the Monkey King’s hubris results in ludicrous decrees and unbalanced behaviour. On the whole though it’s a rather serious story and I think that’s a good thing. It brings up issues of culture, race, and stereotyping in a forthright manner, hopefully designed to encourage children to consider and discuss their own experiences. Jin and his friends contend with heaps of ignorance (even from teachers), while the Monkey King is laughed at by his would-be peers. Danny, though a bit of a golden boy himself, has a cousin who embodies every bad Chinese stereotype - right down to having a lovely lunch of fried cat gizzards. The latter is horrific in its hyperbole, but Yang does nothing without a specific purpose. I might suggest that parents read this before their child does, if only to prepare for the dialogue American Born Chinese should inspire.

(There are also several references to a God of All Things - an omnipotent, omnipresent creator whose teachings can be summed up as Be True to Yourself and Others. Filtered through the lessons of my RC upbringing, he seemed a bit Christian in tone. However, his message is one expressed across all faiths so I don’t think this will present a conflict for other philosophies(view spoiler).)

Yang’s work is entertaining and engaging, offering thought-provoking slices of life. It’s a good example to offer those who haven’t yet bought into the notion that graphic novels can be so much more than pictures on a page. If told through another medium, American Born Chinese might not have the same impact. The story might also serve as a launching point for more reluctant readers, since it echoes the sentiments of many books on children’s required-reading lists.

I can see why American Born Chinese won a host of awards the year of its release; it’s certainly deserving of notice, and I plan to check out Yang’s other works sooner rather than later.
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Quotes The Flooze Liked

Gene Luen Yang
“It's easy to become anything you wish . . . so long as you're willing to forfeit your soul.”
Gene Luen Yang, American Born Chinese

Gene Luen Yang
“Wait."
"So what am I supposed to do now?"

"You know, Jin, I would have saved myself from five hundred years' imprisonment beneath a mountain of rock had I only realized how good it is to be a monkey."

(222-223)”
Gene Luen Yang, American Born Chinese


Reading Progress

10/05/2011 page 98
41.0% "Why is his hair a BROCCOLI?!"
12/21/2016 marked as: read

Comments (showing 1-7 of 7) (7 new)

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message 1: by John (new)

John From what I could see over your shoulder, it looked fun and playful.


The Flooze Yes and no. I just finished my review and I'll post it shortly.


new_user There are also several references to a God of All Things - an omnipotent, omnipresent creator whose teachings can be summed up as Be True to Yourself and Others. Filtered through the lessons of my RC upbringing, he seemed a bit Christian in tone. However, his message is one expressed across all faiths so I don’t think this will present a conflict for other philosophies.

If you argued any slant, it would probably be more Eastern with the "we're all who we're meant to be." What's RC?


Nichole (Dirrty H) Im going to guess Roman Catholic. Am I right? Am I right??


new_user Ohhh, I should have known that, LOL.


The Flooze Lol. Sorry, yes, Roman Catholic. I expected and would have preferred a wholly eastern vibe.

But I got the Christian feel when the god sent some folks to visit a baby in a manger...


new_user LOL. Hm, this is true. I mostly dismissed it in lieu of the racial/cultural aspect. Also, I didn't know the Journey to the West tale, LOL. I didn't know it was supposed to be Buddha at the end of the story. So that may have had something to do with it. Maybe he changed it because so many of his audience will be Christian -and rather, er, vigorous about it, if you know Asian American Christians. Apparently, he discussed this in a blog post:

http://firstsecondbooks.typepad.com/m...

I'm not remotely nationalist, etc. but even so, I think I'd be miffed if he appropriated a folk tale from my culture and made it ultra Christian. He's trying to warp a Buddhist tale to something it's not. I get that he's trying to adapt something iconic of Chinese culture, but isn't there something less religious? Although I think Asians are used to it. Buddhist tales or folklore have been adapted for comics, shows and TV for a long time. So maybe it was well received all in all, LOL.


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