Book review: American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang

American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang
Rating: ★★★☆☆
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: September 1, 2006
Source: Purchased

All Jin Wang wants is to fit in. When his family moves to a new neighborhood, he suddenly finds that he’s the only Chinese American student at his school. Jocks and bullies pick on him constantly, and he has hardly any friends. Then, to make matters worse, he falls in love with an all-American girl…

Born to rule over all the monkeys in the world, the story of the Monkey King is one of the oldest and greatest Chinese fables. Adored by his subjects, master of the arts of kung-fu, he is the most powerful monkey on earth. But the Monkey King doesn’t want to be a monkey. He wants to be hailed as a god…

Chin-Kee is the ultimate negative Chinese stereotype, and he’s ruining his cousin Danny’s life. Danny’s a popular kid at school, but every year Chin-Kee comes to visit, and every year Danny has to transfer to a new school to escape the shame. This year, though, things quickly go from bad to worse…

These three apparently unrelated tales come together with an unexpected twist, in a modern fable that is hilarious, poignant and action-packed. American Born Chinese is an amazing rise, all the way up to the astonishing climax–and confirms what a growing number of readers already know: Gene Yang is a major talent.

I was looking through my books for something to read for my Killing the TBR challenge this month and realized that I’d bought this graphic novel a few months ago and hadn’t read it yet. I wasn’t really sure what I was getting into with it other than that I’ve seen mostly positive reviews. I generally go into graphic novels expecting to absolutely love them, and this one was no different, especially since my Goodreads friends have given it an average rating of 4 stars.

All in all… the book was okay, but there was just something about it that I didn’t like. I mean, the art was good. I appreciate the message about being comfortable with yourself, not trying to be something you’re not, and not being embarrassed by your heritage. Jin was a nicely complex character with enough flaws to feel realistic while still being likable. All of that was really good.

What wasn’t so good, for me at least, was the execution of the actual plot. The story is told through three seemingly unconnected characters — the Monkey King, Jin, and Danny. The Monkey King wants to be recognized as an all-powerful god. Jin just wants to fit in as one of the very few Asian kids at his school. Danny is trying to make it through high school but his life keeps getting derailed by visits from his weird cousin Chin-kee. I’m going to keep my review as spoiler-free as possible, but I do have to say that the way the stories wove around and connected was a little odd.

I think that I understand what Yang was trying to do here, but the constant, overt stereotypes (especially of Chin-kee) continually pulled me out of the story and made it hard to enjoy the book overall. There were also some things Chin-kee did that just seemed so odd (and one thing that was particularly disgusting) and one scene with Jin and Suzy, his best friend’s girlfriend, that felt really out-of-character.

I’d still recommend this if you’re into graphic novels and looking for something quick to read that touches on important issues, but it was definitely not my favorite.

#killingthetbr: three months on shelf
#ps19: a book inspired by mythology, legend, or folklore

Have you read American Born Chinese? What’s your favorite graphic novel?
Let’s talk in the comments!

Find me all over the internet: Goodreads | Twitter | Bloglovin’