Rating: ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️/5
“American Born Chinese” a graphic novel by Gene Luen Yang is a winner of the Michael L. Printz Award and is a National Book Award finalist. The genre of this book is realistic fiction, and the recommended audience is 13 and up. This story follows three characters (Jin, The Monkey King, and Chin-Kee) as each of their stories become intertwined in a journey of learning to be happy with themselves.
Jin Wang is the son of immigrants who moved to America from China. When he is in third grade, his parents move to a new town. At this new school, Jin faces many challenges, one of these being discrimination. Teachers at his school can’t even say his name right, people assume because he’s Chinese he was born in China, and the other kids make racist comments. Jin feels very frustrated because he wants to just blend in with everyone else, but he can’t because people only see him as who they think he is based on his race. Eventually Jin becomes so obsessed with trying to be like everyone else he begins to change his appearance and pretends he is someone else until one day he actually changes into someone else named Danny. When this happens the character Chin-Kee is introduced.
Chin-Kee is supposed to be a living representation of all negative Asian stereotypes and makes life very difficult for his cousin Danny who thinks of him as a nuisance. Danny can’t stand to even be around Chin-Kee because all he sees when he looks at him are things that make him embarrassed. Chin-Kee’s character is supposed to be incredibly offensive, and I think the reason the author put his character in the story at all is to make a point. I think Yang is trying to show people the stereotypes they have subconsciously embraced, and I believe he is trying to make readers aware that anyone can have them, even those who should know better.
The Monkey King - based on one of the oldest Chinese fables - is the ruler of all monkeys and a master of the four heavenly disciplines of Buddhism. One day, the Monkey King starts to believe that he doesn’t want to be a monkey; he wants to be a god so that he will have the respect of everyone in the land. Like Jin, as he becomes someone he isn’t, the Monkey King forgets who he is and loses all his honor. SPOILER: Later on in the story, Jin discovers that Chin-Kee was actually the Monkey King in disguise, his purpose to remind Jin who he is.
An important theme in this story is self. All of the characters in American Born Chinese have some part of them that represents self or self-discovery. Jin’s character represents not liking yourself, Chin-Kee represents the part of yourself you don’t like, and the Monkey King represents learning to appreciate who you are in order to keep moving on in life. A quote early in the book captures this well. “It’s easy to become anything you wish… so long as you’re willing to forfeit your soul” (Yang 29).
Overall, I found this story very intriguing. All of the messages were really interesting. I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys realistic fiction and anyone who likes complex stories or fables. The only thing I did find hard about this book is that some of the stories and parables within took me a while to understand and sometimes there was so much going that I got confused.
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