Book review: American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang
This book resonated with me on a completely unexpected level.
American Born Chinese follows three seemingly separate narratives about identity, transformation, and the struggle to belong. The first is of the legendary Monkey King, the second of a Chinese-American boy, and the third of a white guy and his cousin, Chin-Kee, a walking racist stereotype of Chinese people in America. The stories parallel each other throughout the novel, and at the end, they fit together in a clever twist.
Full disclosure: I am an American-born Chinese. As such, my reaction to this book is colored by my experiences, and I have no idea if someone who doesn’t share them would enjoy it as much as I did. To be fair, not all my experiences match up with those depicted in the novel, but I did grow up on Journey to the West picture books in simplified Chinese, and my engagement with the story of the Monkey King can partly be attributed to the fact that I already love him.
That being said, American Born Chinese has a lot going for it, even if I’m trying to be objective: the neatly entwined storylines, the examination of loneliness, the shrewd commentary on stereotypes, both negative and ostensibly positive. The art, while not beautiful, is colorful and effective, and the humor lifts some of the heavier themes. Overall, it’s a fast and fascinating read—worth a visit to the library and an hour of your time. While it may not be accessible to all readers, there’s very little reason not to at least give it a shot.