As a comic book junkie, I have a hard time not liking new titles, and American Born Chinese is no exception. In his debut graphic novel, Gene Luen Yang expertly weaves three seemingly unrelated stories into a beautifully executed commentary about the trials and tribulations of being different.
First, Yang tackles the issue of racism in high school through the story of Jin Wang, a new kid in the neighborhood who discovers that he is the only Chinese-American student at his school. From Jin’s trying to fit in as a typical American student and wanting to date the popular blonde girl, to helping his friend Wei-Chen to come off as less of what Yang calls an FOB (fresh of the boat), this plucky new author doesn’t hold back portraying the internal struggle between identity and the need to fit in.
Yang’s second story is based on the ancient fable of the Monkey King, who is not content to rule over his primate subjects, but wants to be a god. Though his tale is one that we have seen before (trying to gain more power than is possible for one person — or in this case, one monkey — to attain), it is the one that interested me the most. After undergoing numerous trials to attain godhood, he learns an interesting lesson that has to be read to believe.
By this point in the book, I was lost as to how either of these stories had anything to do with each other. Then I read the third tale, which introduces Chin-Kee, who is best described as the ultimate negative Chinese stereotype: He pronounces his r’s as l’s, dresses like a Chinaman from the 1800s, he even does the old “me Chinese, me play joke, me go pee-pee in your Coke.” A different drummer doesn’t even begin to describe Chin-Kee and he is accordingly made fun of everywhere he goes. Ironically, Chin’s story is the one with which I could identify the most; I’m not Chinese, but throughout high school I was picked on because I wasn’t part of the “in-crowd.”