The book I chose to read was a graphic novel called American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang. Only about 250 pages, it was a pretty short read and I had to check it out from the Neill Public Library in Pullman. I was really looking for a book with a great story if I was going to be spending a decent amount of time reading a comic book and let me tell you, it was a fantastic read.
Overall of the Story
The book had three honestly unrelated different stories, combined into three chapters, that all apparently seemed to fit all together in the end. The monkey king, the story of Jin and Danny and Chin-kee.
First, the book actually starts with a story about the Monkey King who rules over all the monkeys in the world. This happened and is said to be one of the oldest and specifically, one of the greatest Chinese stories told. Basically, he was really good at kung fu and wanted to become a god. However, then he gets stuck under a rock for 500 years and then a monk named Wong Lai-Tsao needs his help. The overall message from this is that eventually, Wong Lai-Tsao saves the Monkey King from being stuck in the rocks and then serves him forever.
The second story was about Jin Wang, the only Chinese-Amerian student in his elementary school, and he wanted to fit in. His family, both immigrants, moved to a new neighborhood and he realized he was the only Chinese-American student in his school. It is your classic high school new kid story where the jock picks on the newbie. Jin then gets to high school where he has a crush on the cutest girl in the school, Amelia Harris, who is popular and white. He has liked her since middle school and eventually Jin’s best friend gets the two together to go on a date. Things were going well with her until a tall curly head white kid told Jin to leave amelia alone. Then, a bunch more drama happens he goes to talk to an old lady in Chinatown and she turns him into a blonde white boy called Danny the end.
Then I assumed the next chapter had to correlate to the last chapter and actually tied all the stories together. At the same high school as old Jin, we meet Danny. Danny has a girlfriend that looks a lot like Amelia and seems like a pretty normal popular guy. He has a super Chinese cousin named Chin-Kee. This was something that Danny was super embarrassed about because he felt like his cousin was ruining his life, which he was. Then, a super important part happens when Danny fights Chin-Kee who is actually the Monkey King that is super good at kung fu.
I would say graphically overall it followed your pretty basic comic strip structure but the drawings were super important to understand the overall theme of identity. Especially, the color of skin or its tones, face structure like if a character had squinty eyes or someone’s hair color. There were a lot of words attached to many of the comics on each page so it definitely also felt like I was reading a real story and not just pictures.
So overall, we learn a lot about friendship, betrayal, lies, appearance, culture, underlying meanings and such. It was interesting to see a correlation between the Monkey King at the beginning of the book who hesitated to enter a party because he was a monkey, which is similar to when Danny enters a party because he was Chinese-American. This is super important for young readers trying to understand who they are and their identity. I honestly really liked and am glad that I forced myself to read it all the way through and am happy that the guy at the Pullman Library told me to read it.
Iconography was huge throughout this book at the three themes all really fit into one at the end. The book mostly was about identity specifically in your culture, hence the title of the book, and the power of strong friendships.
Why do you think the writer/artist chose to use the type of iconography and drawing style s/he did?
I think Yang chose great examples of iconography and drawing styles throughout the book. First, the drawings were amazing, which practically I think is a huge aspect that makes this book so famous. We learned the importance of identity and accepting yourself and culture and embarrassing that regardless if it is out the ordinary. When I was reading, I could not help to think of the correlations and themes that Scott McCloud suggests. Specifically, in Chapter 5 “living in line” we learn a lot about the expressive potential and also the differences that lines can have in comics. I would say the most important lines, which could include senses and emotions, that Yang creates in this book come from the facial structure and identity in the culture of the characters in the book.
For example, in my first example on pages 96 and 97 in the second story,
Jin is at school and is being bullied for his culture. You can see how Yang shows a great emphasis on if someone is white or Asain and this is because it is super important for the reader to understand. You can also see Jin questioning himself after the white American boy and white American girl are talking. He questions if he is good enough and gets frustrated because the white guy is mean to him and gets the girl he likes.
In my second example on page 102, readers can also understand this in the writing in the speech bubble and language used.
English is hard to learn and Jin is struggling to pronounce full fluent sentences to his a white American girl that he had a crush on. In the end, regardless of your culture, Yang exemplifies this in his drawings that a person is no better than someone because of the color of their skin or the way their eyes are shaped.
Yang does this in his comics which I believe is what ultimately makes this a fantastic read for young people today.
Yang, Gene L, and Lark Pien. American Born Chinese. New York: First Second, 2006.