Wednesday, February 8, 2017

American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang

This interesting graphic novel takes three seemingly different stories and weaves them together in a story that shows the struggles of what it is like growing up in a country as a teenage immigrant and trying to fit in. The first story is a 500-year-old Chinese myth about the Monkey King. This arrogant monkey thinks that he is a god and learns humility and caring for others after getting knocked down. The second story is about a young Asian boy in love with a white girl, but afraid to ask her out. And the last is about a white boy that has to tolerate his cousin portrayed deliberately as a negative Asian immigrant stereotype. The three stories come together in an unlikely way that uses visual and print images to convey messages about immigrants, stereotypes, identity, bullies, and love. The author packs a lot into this book that only took me an hour to read.

Yang takes the Monkey King fable and presents a cocky monkey that tries to become immortal only to have the creator bury him under a mountain of rock. The god-like creator of human beings, Tze-Yo-Tzuh, is a mix of East and West religions, similar to the Christian God and the Taoist, Lao-Tsu. The Monkey King does not free himself until he learns to accept his identity and humble himself.

The second story is about an Asian boy that desperately wants to fit in with other students at school. He perms his hair and avoids the other Asian students until a new boy shows up from China. The Asian boy betrays their friendship and has to make amends. The third story is about a white boy with an Asian cousin who embarrasses him with his immigrant accent, looks, and behavior.

In comics and films, negative Asian stereotyped characters were often presented as wearing a type of sedge hat, having buck teeth, slanty eyes, and a ponytail. The "coolie", a derogatory term for a manual laborer, was usually the sidekick to the white hero. Yang's character is reminiscent of characters such as Chop-Chop, Yellow Peril, and Fu Manchu. Or maybe the immigrant Siamese Twins in Chip-n-Dale's Rescue Ranger with their bad accents are closer to the mark. Either way, I had no idea where Yang was going with the plot on this third story. The first two are about identity and trying to fit in but the third was offensive in its caricature. Yang creatively works this into the plot with a terrific ending - don't worry, I won't give it away. Another winner by the talented artist.

5 Smileys

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