Caroline the Future Librarian

Caroline Davis | LIBR 265-10 | SJSU | Wrenn-Estes

American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang

Title: American Born Chinese
Author: Gene Luen Yang
Publisher: Square Fish
Date: December 2008
ISBN-13: 978-0312384487

Plot Summary: In American Born Chinese, three seemingly separate stories come together in a surprising way.  The first story is of the Monkey King, an ancient Chinese deity who becomes as powerful as he can, but must humble himself and serve as a disciple to a holy man.  The second is of a handsome blonde teen named Danny, who is visited every year by his cousin Chin-Kee, an offensive and racist caricature of a Chinese person, who embarrasses Danny by his behavior, including making sexist comments about women and loudly performing the song “She Bangs” on a table in the library.  The last story is of Jin Wang, a Chinese-American student at a predominantly white school, who just wants to be treated like everyone else.  He befriends a student from Taiwan, and tries to attract the attention of his crush, a girl in his class named Amelia.  In the end, it is revealed how the three stories are interconnected.

Critical Evaluation: Anyone who thinks that graphic novels can’t be a serious form of storytelling has never read American Born Chinese.  Even with the highly stylized and cartoon-like drawings, the story it tells of coming of age and reconciling your ethnic identity with the dominant culture is extremely well told and thought provoking (no wonder it won the Michael L. Printz Award in 2007, which recognizes literary excellence in young adult literature).  Jin’s experience of high school, including figuring out how to act around the opposite sex, and just trying to fit in at school, will relate to teens – and those who remember what those days were like.  The technique of telling three apparently unrelated stories, then revealing an astonishing connection at the climax of the plot was very effective and forces the reader to give the story more thought, thinking back over the three storylines and seeing how they fit together in retrospect.

Reader’s Annotation: This graphic novel tells three stories – of Jin Wang, a Chinese-American high school student; the Monkey King, an ancient Chinese deity; and of blonde Danny and his cousin Chin-Kee, who is a caricature of a racist stereotype of a Chinese person – that are connected in a surprising way.

Author Information: Gene Yang began drawing comic books in the fifth grade.  In 1997, he received the Xeric Grant, a prestigious comics industry grant, for Gordon Yamamoto and the King of the Geeks, his first comics work as an adult.  He has since written and drawn a number of titles, including Duncan’s Kingdom (with art by Derek Kirk Kim) and The Rosary Comic Book.

He lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with his lovely wife, Theresa, and son, Kolbe, and teaches computer science at a Roman Catholic high school. (Biographical Information from the jacket of American Born Chinese)

Genre: Multicultural Fiction

Curriculum Ties: Multiculturalism, Sociology

Booktalking Ideas:
1) Discuss how the three plotlines are connected.
2) Gene Yang says that he took the Buddhist legend of the Monkey King and adapted it with his own Christian faith to use in the story.  Do you he should have done this?
3) Most Americans are descended from immigrants – do you feel connected to the culture of your origin?

Interest Age: 14 and older

Challenge Issues: None.

Challenge Defense Ideas:

• Become familiar with the book and its content.

• Refer to the collection development policy of the library, if none, see here to develop one right away.

• Refer to reviews available for viewing on

• Try to get reviews of the book from teens who have read it.

Selection: I was hoping to add more multicultural literature to my collection, and also wanted to include some graphic novels.  This fit the bill on both counts, and additionally was a fantastic read!  Highly recommended.


Gene Luen Yang talks about American Born Chinese.


May 13, 2010 - Posted by | Graphic Novels |

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