Review: American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang

American Born Chinese by Gene Luen YangAll Jin Wang wants is to fit in. When his family moves to a new neighborhood, he suddenly finds that he’s the only Chinese American student at his school. Jocks and bullies pick on him constantly, and he has hardly any friends. Then, to make matters worse, he falls in love with an all-American girl…

Born to rule over all the monkeys in the world, the story of the Monkey King is one of the oldest and greatest Chinese fables. Adored by his subjects, master of the arts of kung-fu, he is the most powerful monkey on earth. But the Monkey King doesn’t want to be a monkey. He wants to be hailed as a god…

Chin-Kee is the ultimate negative Chinese stereotype, and he’s ruining his cousin Danny’s life. Danny’s a popular kid at school, but every year Chin-Kee comes to visit, and every year Danny has to transfer to a new school to escape the shame. This year, though, things quickly go from bad to worse…

These three apparently unrelated tales come together with an unexpected twist, in a modern fable that is hilarious, poignant and action-packed. American Born Chinese is an amazing rise, all the way up to the astonishing climax–and confirms what a growing number of readers already know: Gene Yang is a major talent.

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Review

I found American Born Chinese so engaging I ended up having blurry vision and stinging eyes for about half an hour after I finished reading it. I was so engrossed, I barely noticed the comings and goings of my housemates or the passing of time. I’m usually on time for my meals, I become hungry so quickly, but I ended up having dinner an hour later just so I could read. I was starving by the time I finished!

I love Monkey Magic (also known as Monkey), so much so I have the theme song as my ring-tone, have the lyrics pass through my mind when my phone rings, and covet the DVD collection each time I visit JB HiFi. I have very fond memories of Monkey Magic and when I began reading American Born Chinese I recognised the fable the story starts with.

At first I wasn’t sure, but my suspicions were confirmed after a few more panels, it was the same classic Chinese tale Monkey Magic is based on! This instantly grabbed my attention. American Born Chinese is three stories interwoven in one. One of these is the tale of the Monkey King, the other follows the main protagonist, Jin, and the third about another student, Danny, and his cousin. At first the third part, with Danny, threw me off. There were obvious connections, like Danny being embarrassed by his negatively stereotyped Asian cousin, but otherwise I couldn’t find another connection. Until it all came together and a light clicked on.

The three parts matched up and ended perfectly. I loved it! American Born Chinese beginning with the Monkey King story initially had my attention, but in the end it was the main story of Jin struggling with his Asian-American heritage that got me. I fell in love with all the characters, including their weaknesses, and loved how Jin’s mother’s stories were interspersed throughout. The mother’s stories, as well as the stories of Danny and the Monkey King, added depth to Jin’s inner turmoil.

If you haven’t already, go and find a copy of American Born Chinese and immerse yourself in its pages.

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