Monday, May 10, 2010

American Born Chinese, by Gene Luen Yang

American Born Chinese, by Gene Luen Yang. New York: Square Fish, 2008 (reprint), 2006 (first date of publication). ISBN-10: 0312384483; ISBN-13: 978-0312384487. 240 p.

Plot Summary
The monkey king of Flower-Fruit Mountain wants nothing but to join the gods and gain immortality, but finds that he isn't accepted into heaven because he's a monkey. Jin Wang is a child of immigrants who wants to fit in in his regular American classroom, but is hindered by his relationship with Wei-Chen, fresh off the boat from Taiwan. And Danny's Chinese cousin embarrasses him in school. This aware-winning graphic novel deftly weaves together three interrelated stories about the challenges young Chinese-American teens face as they participate in popular American culture.

Critical Evaluation
I was impressed by how neatly the three seemingly-unrelated threads fit together by the end. Publishers' Weekly praised American Born Chinese as a "fable for every kid born into a body and a life they wished they could escape", while School Library Journal said that this book "explores the impact of the American Dream on those outside the dominant culture in a finely wrought story" (starred review). This book won the Printz Award and was a finalist for the National Book Award--the first graphic novel to win the Printz and be nominated for the National Book Award--and both honors were well-deserved.

Reader’s Annotation
American Born Chinese explores what it means to be on the outside through three interrelated stories about life as a young Chinese American.

Author Information
NPR reports that "as one of the few Chinese Americans in his predominantly white school in Northern California, Yang wrestled not just with all the usual questions of childhood, but also with often subtle forms of racism....Memories of shame played a big part in shaping the book, Yang says. He recalls a boy who joined his elementary school from Taiwan. Yang's teachers wanted him to befriend the new kid, who gamely talked to Yang in Mandarin for a week. Yang struggled to respond. "I was really dealing with something inside about me being ashamed of the culture of my parents," he says. " (link). Another great interview can be found at

Yang started publishing comics in 1996 under the name Humble Comics. He has published several other graphic novels, including Gordon Yamamoto and the King of the Geeks, The Eternal Smile, Prime Baby, and Animal Crackers. He lives with his family in the San Francisco Bay area and teaches computer science at Bishop O'Dowd High School, a private Catholic school. He blogs at

Graphic novel

Curriculum Ties
History/sociology: Immigrant life

Booktalking Ideas
-read Jin's account of his parents' life and how they met (working hard as graduate students in San Francisco)
-share Jin's introduction to a new school in 3rd grade (no one could pronounce his name).

Reading Level/Interest Age
Grades 9+. Younger teens may enjoy it as well, but may find the story format a little challenging.

Challenge Issues

I included this book because I heard such good reviews, and I saw it as I was browsing the shelves at the library.


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