American Born Chinese has the distinction of being the first graphic novel ever nominated for a National Book Award, and it earns it. It’s a funny book at times, what with its over-the-top character of Cousin Chin-Kee, whose sitcom tale is told in one of the book’s three storylines. But the other two storylines are something different entirely. In one, the heroic legend of the Monkey King is illustrated (a huge folk hero in Chinese culture, the Monkey King is well-known to almost every Chinese child); and in the third, the titular character, Jin Wang, moves with his family from San Francisco’s Chinatown into a suburb. How he manages—and doesn’t manage—to fit in form the heart of the novel. American Born Chinese’s ability to deal honestly with the pains of adolescent isolation make it so compellingly readable. Perhaps Gene Luen Yang’s occupation as a high-school teacher gives him the authenticity this novel uses so effectively, or perhaps he truly can tap into the angst and agita of the teenage years. Either way, it works so well that you can’t help but feel immediately moved and caught up in it.
Reviewed by John Hogan on July 3, 2012
American Born Chinese