Monday, July 2, 2007

Book Review: "American Born Chinese"

American Born Chinese is a graphic novel by Gene Luen Yang. The term "graphic novel" does not refer to the content of the book, but rather to it's style. Wikipedia says:

A graphic novel is a type of comic book, usually with a lengthy and complex storyline similar to those of novels, and often aimed at mature audiences. The term also encompasses comic short story anthologies, and in some cases bound collections of previously published comic-book series.Graphic novels are typically bound in longer and more durable formats than familiar comic magazines, using the same materials and methods as printed books, and are generally sold in bookstores and specialty comic book shops rather than at newsstands.

Maybe you knew that. I didn't until very recently. This book has been my first experience with the graphic novel form, and I haven't read many (any) comic books either. So, this was an eye-opening experience for me. Broadening the horizons.

That said, I liked the book a lot. It starts out with three separate plots: A) Jin Wang just wants to fit in -- and when his parents move he finds himself the only Chinese-American student in his school. Then, he starts to fall for an All-American girl... B) The Monkey King fable is a Chinese classic -- but the Monkey King doesn't want to be a monkey, he wants to be a god... C) "Chin-Kee is the ultimate negative Chinese stereotype" (front flap) and keeps ruining his cousin Danny's life.... The book rotates from story to story until, within just a few short pages -- WHAM! they all come together. It's intriguing, people.

Being a book not only about adolescence but also about racial stereotype, it's major theme is acceptance. It goes from hilarious to tense to we-know-how-that-goes and back again. Also, being a young adult novel about junior high and high school students it has some minor language/junior high idiocy. But only as much as it needed to be an effective book. It was just awarded the Printz, which is a book that "exemplifies literary excellence in young adult literature."

The illustrations were good, too. They're done in panels (like a comic book) but don't have that Marvel/DC look, which is good because it really would not have worked with the story. Also, they're not anime/japanimation style either. Realistic, not over-detailed. They help the story along without getting in the way.

And the book has kept me thinking about it for a few days now. It only took me a couple of hours to read its 234 pages, but I keep thinking about it, glancing back at it, re-reading little bits here and there. So, hey, why not broaden your own horizons a little bit?

No comments: