Gene Luen Yang’s graphic novel American Born Chinese had me completely and totally enthralled from page one, and I finished it in one sitting. The book initially caught my attention because of the bright colors and the title’s promise of a diverse cast, but the book delivered much more than I had initially expected – using a race-related sense of isolation to convey the broader concern of how one fits into school and his or her identity at all.
The book has a transportive quality that took me from my bed to the realm of the Chinese gods, goddesses and spirits, and then to a high school with only three Asian students. I empathized with the frustration of the proud Monkey King at his snubbing by the rest of the gods, as well as the nerves of Jin Wang in approaching his crush, and the horror of Danny as his cousin Chin-Kee flaunted every stereotype made of Chinese people.
The three seemingly independent characters (the Monkey King, Jin Wang, and Chin-Kee) have their lines woven together in an unexpectedly novel way, leaving the reader in awe of Yang’s creativity, and the seemingly simple message of just be yourself comes through loud and clear.
And while book’s almost exclusively male cast and very active graphic novel format does invite a more masculine crowd of readers, the themes of isolation and self-worth could appeal to anyone who has struggled with acceptance or anxiety – particularly middle and high schoolers.