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Page history last edited by RichiesPicks 10 years, 9 months ago

17 October 2005  AMERICAN BORN CHINESE by Gene Luen Yang, First Second, September 2006, ISBN: 1-59643-152-0


"I fear the monkey in your soul."

--Steely Dan


A surprising interweaving of Chinese myth and legend, prejudice and self-acceptance, and the coming of age of a first generation American-born boy of Chinese descent, make AMERICAN BORN CHINESE an exceptionally entertaining and thought-provoking graphic novel.


More than halfway though reading the vividly illustrated story, I still had no idea how the three distinct and alternating tales that make up the book were going to eventually come together as promised on the flap copy.


"I see my light come shining

From the west unto the east.

Any day now, any day now,

I shall be released."

--Bob Dylan


One of the three threads involves the Monkey King, who wants to be a god and literally gets himself buried in trouble. Another is the story of Jin Wang, whose previously blissful childhood, spent in San Francisco's Chinatown, is transformed when his family moves to a very different community and Jin starts attending Mayflower Elementary School. The third thread is about Danny, a popular (and non-Asian) basketball player whose school life is annually disrupted by the arrival of his cousin Chin-Kee, who physical characteristics, dress, and mannerisms epitomize the extremes of Chinese stereotyping.


I cannot imagine a reader not being sucked into this one after the scene in which Jin gets his first hit of Mayflower Elementary. The teacher introduces him as Jing Jang (instead of Jin Wang), tells her students that he moved from China (instead of Chinatown), and then when one of the kids immediately raises his hand to tell the class that 'Momma says Chinese people eat dogs," the teacher responds, "Now be nice, Timmy! I'm sure Jin doesn't do that! In fact, Jin's family probably stopped that sort of thing as soon as they came to the United States."


I've never gotten to do a graphic novel read aloud. Now I can't wait to figure out how to make it happen. I can easily imagine assigning parts to students each day and doing AMERICAN BORN CHINESE as readers theater. (All I need now is a way to scam a class set.)


In any case, this is a graphic novel that belongs in every middle school collection.


Richie Partington




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