Gene Luen Yang’s graphic novel American Born Chinese has gathered much word-of-mouth attention and rightly so – the book is a fascinating insight into the world and mind of a young American boy, born to Chinese parents. It’s written in three sections: the basic world of Jin Wang, who goes to a regular American school and, after moving from San Francisco, has to deal with the kind of playground racism that’s no doubt endemic in such an environment; a bizarre sitcom, complete with canned laughter, in which an overtly stereotypical Chinese boy called Chin-Kee comes to visit his deeply embarrassed American cousin; and the mythological tale of the Monkey King, considered too lowly a life form, despite his position amongst his fellow primates, to join the other deities in heaven. Although the three stories seem quite separate and are clearly set in different worlds, Luen Yang pulls their strands together and intertwines them to make a sublime blend of reality, comedy and imagination. The book literally blossoms before the reader’s eyes.
The artwork is simple but delicious, with the basic but expressive lines of a cartoonist and bold, uncomplicated colour. The panels are regular and perfectly paced, the characters gently comedic and gracefully poised.
Like all good literature, there’s elements in this book to make you laugh and cry, to pull at your heart strings and make you turn your nose up in disgust. It’s a wonderful journey with a terrific payoff to make it even more worthwhile, and comes recommended to all inteligent readers, comic fan or not.