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Saturday, June 18, 2011

Review: American Born Chinese

I read that American Born Chinese is so far the only graphic novel to have been nominated for the National Book Award. That blew my mind, since graphic novels rarely get that kind of recognition.

The book is short and a quick read (30 minutes or so). It starts off with 3 separate threads, the first of which I realized (with a groan) that was a mere retelling of the opening of the classic Journey to the West. The second tells the story of Jin Wang, who starts elementary school at an American school and despite having been in San Francisco all his life, is treated like a foreigner. My impression of American schools from popular media is that it's a traumatic experience, especially if you're a nerd, but being a short graphic novel means that Gene Yang only really touches on this at the most shallow of levels (like "I hear that Chinese people eat dogs."). The final thread tells of an American, Danny, whose Chinese cousin Chin-Kee visits and embarrasses him by being extremely Chinese.

The threads all tie together at the end, and we get a neat little resolution that turns the entire book into a nice little parable ("Learn to accept who you are"), but left me wondering why it became a National Book Award finalist. While it wasn't a waste of time, I'm not sure I gained any more insight to how the American Born Chinese experience is all that different. Mildly recommended.

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