Mar 7, 2008

American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang

American Born Chinese is the story of the Monkey King, an irreverent hero of Chinese folklore who defies the gods themselves. It’s also Jin Wang’s story: he’s a second-generation Chinese boy growing up in America, and he has to face all the difficulties people growing up have to face, plus all the extra ones that being part of a minority brings him. Finally, it is Danny’s story. Danny is an American boy whose social life is constantly ruined by the embarrassing yearly visits of his Chinese cousin Chin-Kee. These three seemingly separate tales are revealed to be different facets of a single story in an intelligent twist near the end of the book.

I’ve seen this book be compared to Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eyes, and although I haven’t read it (yet), judging by the reviews of the participants in the My Year of Reading Dangerously challenge, I can see why. The books share a theme of racial self-hatred and its consequences. What happens when these young men and women begin to interiorize the way they are portrayed by society at large?

American Born Chinese also deals with self-acceptance, identity, and friendship. There are many funny moments in the story, but, like the best sort of humour, this doesn’t get in the way of the book’s seriousness or poignancy. There is also a certain amount of subtlety and – what to call it? – tenderness in the way the story is told that I really appreciated.

I also really admire Gene Luen Yang for being brave enough to use a character like Chin-Kee, who embodies all the racial stereotypes associated with Chinese people:

As the author says in this very recommendable piece about the novel (my thanks to alisonwonderland for the link), “In order for us to defeat our enemy, he must first be made visible.” The character is used very cleverly, and his courage in writing this book is an important step towards the deconstruction of these stereotypes.

I won this book from Dewey, and I wanted to thank her once again for it. I picked it because I had just read Athena’s review, but I’m sure you all know how it is: after we read a positive review of a certain book we have the impulse to buy it right away, but after some time passes we sort of forget that we want it so much. So who knows when I’d have picked up this lovely book if it hadn’t been for Dewey’s give-away. Thanks!

Other Blog Reviews:
The Hidden Side of a Leaf
Everyday Reads
Stuff as Dreams are Made On
Bermudaonion's Weblog
An Adventure in Reading
Book Nut
Tripping Towards Lucidity
Frenetic Reader
nothing of importance
The Written World
The Book Zombie
Book Addiction
Regular Rumminations
Books of Mee


  1. This is one that I had been wanting to read too. I had heard good things about it...maybe it was from Dewey..don't really remember. Glad to hear you you enjoyed it too!

  2. Whew! I don't have to add this to my wish list. (Of course, that's because it's already there, added after I read Alison's review.) So happy you enjoyed it!

  3. This is going on my list thanks for the review. This is the second positive review for this I have read now.

  4. Chris: You should definitely read it! I can't imagine you not enjoying it.

    Debi: I'm glad to not be adding to the wishlist :P

    Rhinoa: I've seen nothing but positive reviews of this one. It's a great book.

  5. I've been wanting to read this one too. I'm glad you enjoyed it!!

    I like the new banner too!! Very cool!

  6. Stephanie, I'm glad you like it! :)

  7. I'm glad you enjoyed it! I haven't read it yet myself; my library bought it and I have a hold on it, but it's been in processing for weeks and weeks. I'm looking forward to it, though, especially after reading your review.

  8. I put this on my wishlist after reading Andi's review a while back. Thanks for the reminder. It does sound very good.

  9. Dewey: I hope you get it from the library soon! I look forward to your thoughts on it. I really do think you'll enjoy it.

    Tanabata: I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

  10. I LOVE this book. My former thesis director recommended it to me, and she uses it in her literature courses at university. I reviewed it for Estella months back, and even tried to get an interview with Gene Yang, but no luck. Darnit.

    I'm glad you enjoyed it. There's no better book for irony, poignancy, and narrative technique I can think of.

  11. a very interesting way of exploring identity, as well as exploring one's feelings about one's identity.

  12. Andi: Aw, tt's too bad you couldn't get the interview. But it is an extraordinary book, and how cool that it is taught at university! Unfortunately I have yet to find a university professor who doesn't look down on comic books. But I know that things are starting to change, and that makes me happy. Some of the most innovate and exciting storytelling is being done in comics, and sooner or later the fact will be widely acknowledged.

    JP: It is indeed!

  13. This sounds really, really interesting! Great review!

    Hey, I was wondering if you could help me out. I've been trying for some time to figure out how to get panels on both sides of my blog so that I can list my reading challenges on one side and have the index of books I've read on the other. Otherwise it feels too cluttered. I've poked around Blogger but I can't seem to figure it out. Would you be able to email me at pezdispenser at telus dot net, or just post a comment on my blog and let me know where I can find the buttons to re-jigger this? Thanks so much!


Thank you so much for taking the time to comment - interaction is one of my favourite things about blogging and a huge part of what keeps me going.