Tuesday, January 19, 2010

American Born Chinese, Gene Luen Yang

Last year, when it seemed that I didn’t read much at all, I still read a lot of comic books and graphic novels, so picking just one Eisner winner to focus on was a bit of a challenge for me. As soon as I dove into American Born Chinese, however, I knew I had made the right choice. Yang’s story of a boy’s journey into self awareness and acceptance, was touching.

Yang smartly crafts this bildungsroman by interweaving several narratives. On one level we have a folk tale-like story of a monkey God gone mad with power, delusional about what he is/is not, and forced to undergo repentance. Yang further provides us with the story of Chin-kee, the boy’s “cousin from Asia.” This is a character essentially in “Asian face” meant both to harpoon Asian stereotypes and embody the young boy’s fear of becoming/being bound by the same stereotypes. Lastly, we have the underlying story of a young boy as he attempts to navigate his coming into adolescence.

Anyone who has watched a Spike Lee movie probably has a sense that it is difficult to tackle identity politics without delivering an artistic work that reads more like a stiff essay than an easily relatable, human story. I believe Yang does an excellent job here of creating a character that challenges the assumptions people might hold, demonstrates the difficulties that people straddling different divides (immigrant/not, Chinese/American, Chinese/Chinese American) face while still putting forth a thoroughly enjoyable tale.

Rating: 9/10

Genre: Graphic novel

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