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Reviewed by:
  • American Born Chinese
  • Elizabeth Bush
Yang, Gene Luen American Born Chinese; written and illus. by Gene Luen Yang; color by Lark Pien. First Second/Roaring Brook, 2006233p Paper ed. ISBN 1-59643-152-0$18.95 R Gr. 6-10

Raised in San Francisco's Chinatown, Jin Wang moves to a new neighborhood and a new school in third grade, where he quickly realizes that he's an oddball among Anglo-American classmates. Further complicating his life is the arrival of a Taiwanese student who latches onto him for companionship and sticks like a burr on through junior high. The picture of dorkiness in his huge eyeglasses, Robo Happy shirt, hiked-up pants, and cowlick, Wei-Chen Sun turns into Jin's closest friend and greatest embarrassment, both a cheerleader and a stumbling block to Jin's efforts to fit into mainstream school life and win the blonde girl of his dreams. Weaving around and ultimately converging with the seriocomic story of Jin's coming-of-age problems are two related tales that comment on issues of identity. In the first, the Chinese legendary Monkey King, banished from the gods' dinner party because he is a monkey, perfects his skills and disciplines to the point where he claims to have [End Page 152] transcended his monkeyness. As "The Great Sage, Equal of Heaven," he's ready to take on all comers including the creator god Tze-Yo-Tzuh, but he is ultimately punished, humbled, and redirected to the understanding that his freedom will only come through acceptance of his true nature. The last piece of the narrative triad is a sitcom, "Everyone Wuvs Chin-Kee," complete with laugh track, in which broadly stereotyped Chin-Kee turns up on an annual visit to Americanized cousin Danny and, in a series of classroom episodes that play out Jin Wang's worst nightmares, turns Danny's social life into a shambles. The graphic-novel format is particularly well suited to managing the flow of three simultaneous storylines, and the action sequences of the Monkey King's tale and the over-the-top satire on the portrayal of immigrants in American pop culture settle right into their spacious frames on the generously white bordered pages. Compositions are tidy and the palette is softly muted, so that even the strongest colors in the action scenes never reach the intensity of a visual assault. Kids fighting an uphill battle to convince parents and teachers of the literary merit of graphic novels would do well to share this title.

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