American Born Chinese

Author: Gene Luen Yang
Reading Level: 7th and up

Pages: 240
Publisher: First Second, Roaring Brooks
Edition: Paperback original, 2006

I cannot pin down my own reaction to this graphic novel. It is beautifully produced: glossy paper, clean layout, the comic illustrations are quite skillfully done, and the storytelling is at moments quite intelligent. But, that what I felt most reading the book was how all parts of it are “adequate” and how I was aware of all these components at the same time finding myself not terribly moved in any way. I was not offended, either — even by the buck-teethed, slant-eyed, Engrish-speaking caricature of a Chinese cousin (I knew that he served some form of purpose other than ridiculing the Chinese as a whole.) I felt little revelation — even when the three story lines finally get twisted together, the surprise factor only lasted a short moment and then the bigger lingering question remains: “Are these three stories organically entwined due to an unyielding internal creative force or are they forced together because it seems like a cool idea to connect a current day ABC’s destiny to an old Chinese Legend?” For me, the resolution definitely lacks the power to convince me that this tale cannot be told better.

The best part of the book actually is the very short, very straightforward, very truthful retelling of the Monkey King story — I wanted more of that!

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