American Born Chinese

Gene Luen Yang
Jin Wang starts at a new school where he’s the only Chinese-American student. When a boy from Taiwan joins his class, Jin doesn’t want to be associated with an FOB like him. Jin just wants to be an all-American boy, because he’s in love with an all-American girl. Danny is an all-American boy: great at basketball, popular with the girls. But his obnoxious Chinese cousin Chin-Kee’s annual visit is such a disaster that it ruins Danny’s reputation at school, leaving him with no choice but to transfer somewhere he can start all over again. The Monkey King has lived for thousands of years and mastered the arts of kung fu and the heavenly disciplines. He’s ready to join the ranks of the immortal gods in heaven. But there’s no place in heaven for a monkey. Each of these characters cannot help himself alone, but how can they possibly help each other? They’re going to have to find a way—if they want fix the disasters their lives have become. American Born Chinese is a 2006 National Book Award Finalist for Young People's Literature, the winner of the 2007 Eisner Award for Best Graphic Album: New, an Eisner Award nominee for Best Coloring and a 2007 Bank Street - Best Children's Book of the Year.


Reviewed: 2016-11-18

It’s highly unusual to merge identity, art, and culture into one text.  Yet, Gene Leun Yang’s graphic novel entitled American Born Chinese, inventively and unapologetically creates a narrative landscape that Yang examines the issues that immigrants or first-generation Americans are most likely to experience as they are in the process of coming to terms with the convergences of disparate cultures.  Even though the plots are seemingly unrelated, ABC is a trilogy.  The common denominator that links these stories is Yang’s spends his narrative energy discerning the fixity of stereotypes, assimilation, racism, classism, love, and identity.  Jin Wang is a first generation Taiwanese American who has voluntarily consumed the “Whiteness is the Bestest” Kool-Aid and does everything possible to be perceived as an American Kid, which is code for being white.  A story of assimilation must be accompanied by conflict and in ABC the conflict is Jin falls with Amelia, a Caucasian American.  However, Jin does not have the courage to ask her out, but receives encouragement from Wu Chen Chang, a short-term nemesis and soon after turn best friend.  One day in middle school, a closet mishap occurs that makes Jin appear like the hero, he gets the nerve to ask Amelia out and she agrees.  The date was a success and Jin is delighted with himself, however the euphoria was short-lived when, Timmy, a guy who Amelia has had a crush on for as long as Jin as had a crush on her, decides to break things off with Jin because Timmy is now noticing her. As it happens, Jin and Tim have a conversation and the latter reveals his bigotry by informing Jin that the only reason he appeared to take an interest in Amelia because Tim “wanted to make sure she makes good choices.” In others words, Tim was advising Jin that sticking to your own, is the wisest decision, as miscegenation would be the seed that destroys the position and power of whiteness and white privilege. To relieve himself of anger and disappointment he kisses Suzy, Wu Chen’s girlfriend.  Coincidentally, Wu Chen walks in as they are kissing and both Jin and Wu have a brawl.  Jin justifies the kiss by convincing himself that Wu Chen does not deserve Suzy. Magically the next day, Jin is transformed into a blue-eyed blonde boy which he now goes by the name of Danny. The other story of the trilogy centers around a character by the name of Danny, an intelligent blue-eyed teenager in high school.  One day his mother informs his that Chin kee, a cousin from China, is coming for his annual visit and advises her Danny that he should take him to school. Yang embodies Chin kee with all of the stereotypes that Americans have of Chinese people and culture.  The news makes Danny despondent.  Chin kee makes a negative splash at school, Danny was so chagrined by his cousin’s behavior that his body and movements reflected his mood.  The day gets progressively worse when Danny’s girlfriend breaks up with him, but wants to remain friends.   The readers come to learn that Jin and Danny are one and the same.  The inclusion of Chin kee, who is really an ancient Chinese mythic character, was to help Danny come to terms to accept who he is as he is.  This coming to terms is brought by Jin reconciling with We Chen. 


ABC is a definite high school book that should be read in freshman ELA class.  The reason for the suggestion is that freshmen, regardless of race, gender or ethnicity have some feelings of not-belonging, and decide to negotiate their cultural or personal identity to assimilate into the mainstream.  However, as our Jin/Danny character have demonstrated, cultural assimilation comes as a cost. For this reason, ABC would encourage freshmen to claim their voice and accept the uniqueness of their voice so they can appreciate their voice. 

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