Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Guest Post: American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang

A 3-in-1 graphic novel, American Born Chinese intertwines three narratives that converge to reveal the author’s message of self-acceptance.

The first narrative revolves around Jin Wang, the only Chinese-American student in his high school.  He is bullied and lonely and in love with beautiful, blonde Amelia Harris.  All of a sudden, his life changes when a Chinese boy moves to town with his family.  Jin now has a friend, but accepts Wei-Chen’s friendship begrudgingly, since he would only cast greater light on Jin’s own other-ness.

The second narrative is based on a traditional Chinese fable: the story of the Monkey King.  Pompous and stubborn, the Monkey King wishes to raise from the status of king to that of a god.  He trains and becomes seemingly invincible.  Tze-Yo-Tzuh, the creator of all existence, takes umbrage at the Monkey Kings arrogance and traps him under an immense pile of boulders where he remains for a long time.

The final narrative is that of Danny, a popular, blond, all-American teenager.  The only atypical thing about Danny is his cousin, Chin-Kee, whose name is a play on a slur.  Chin-Kee is a cultural stereotype brought to life.  From the illustration which brings to mind propaganda posters of the ‘40s to the way he speaks in broken and accented English, Chin-Kee is the embodiment of all that embarrasses Danny and does so to such an extent that Danny is forced to transfer schools every year after Chin-Kee’s annual visit.

Each of the protagonists is struggling to discover how he can be accepted and content, while still being a part of his own culture.  At the end, the stories converge and each realizes that the key to happiness is in self-acceptance.  Each has his own role in life, and, by embracing that role, he will be satisfied.  Yang incorporates both visual and written humor, cultural traditions, and honest expression of emotion to fuse together this compelling and complex, yet very understandable, graphic novel.  --Julie Weber

Guest blogger Julie Weber currently teaches at Passages Academy.

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