Sunday, December 10, 2006

American Born Chinese

Gene Luen Yang

A book that has been appearing on the top of several best-of lists, American Born Chinese is a bit overrated as a showcase for the best the medium has to offer, especially in a year with an abundance of fantastic stuff available. I am very happy for new publisher :01 First Second in that they've had such success in their first year, in particular with this book, but at the same time, I must admit a little disappointment in light of the hype.
American Born Chinese is, for the most part, split between two stories, the first of which follows Jin Wang as he grows up amid cruel schoolmates as an outsider, and the second of which examines the Monkey King from Chinese folklore. The parable of the Monkey King is a really fun, whacky story that the art is perfectly suited to tell with its cartoony look. Jin Wang's childhood was equally as fun to read, with his cute little mistakes and his first crush, but of course growing up in a school primarily made up of White students led to quite a bit of name-calling and teasing that ultimately made him feel ashamed of his heritage. The story is pretty straight-forward, although some revelations at the end of the book add some layers to what's been going on throughout, grafting on more depth, and giving some of the symbolism a little more weight. Everything kind of came together at the end in light of a sometimes meandering plot, but overall, I thought it could have used a little something to drive the isolation Wang felt home. I had a great time reading this book, and I do recommend it, but there are certainly other books I'd mention before this title fell from my lips. B+

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