American Born Chinese: Transformative Literature / by Alex Jarvis


  "American Born Chinese" was an absolute delight to read. Written and drawn by Gene Luen Yang (Originally published by Macmillian imprint Square Fish in 2006) it was nominated for (and won) a number of awards, some of which had never had graphic novelists among their ranks, such as the Michael L. Printz award for young-adult literature, which it won in 2007.

The back cover of the smaller-size paperback that I purchased frames the series decently on the back cover. "Three different Characters, one simple goal: To fit in." "American Born Chinese" is actually three different stories, with each story divided up into roughly 20 pages before getting to the next. The "main" story, that of chinese-american Jin Wang, is a common story with a racial tilt. Jin's story is one easily relatable too, the outsider pulled between the new life he's entered and the one he's come from. Gene expertly shows how the dissonance between these two roles creates a hate equilibrium within the young boy; As he is teased by racist bullies, he is just as quick to hate himself (and even reject another boy in a similar position).

Outside of the racial component, a huge part of what hits home about this book is the honest truth about being a high-school aged kid. There is one particularly poignant page where Jin contemplates what a girl he has a crush on likes in a guy, and my heart breaks every time ( more on that in a later segment). I won't delve too deeply into the other two segments, other than they are entirely unrelated. The conclusion of all three is entirely unexpected yet satisfying. I read the entire thing in one sitting, and I had a smile permanently fixed to my face as I saw what the writer had done. The ending had specific emotional impact for me, and I found myself moved by the outcome. Kudos.

To say nothing of the art. The art is simple, but moves the story effectively. I appreciated his use of shapes in the hairstyles of the characters. Hair is actually something of a sub-theme in the story, and the artists depiction of the characters hair in relation to their face goes a long way in showing off their personality. In many ways (such as the "Chin-kee" story) the art delves into the specifically offensive, showcasing old chinese stereotypes in a way to make them borderline cartoonish. The third story, A re-telling of chinese myth, manages to stay in a consistent style while still looking reminiscent of its progenitor.

There is no doubt in my mind why this story won so many awards. It is high on my list of books to show people to people who don't read comic books.

TL;DR: "American Born Chinese" is a relatable story about struggles to find ones place in life, no matter who you are or where you come from. Stay humble. Highly recommended.

"American Born Chinese" is written and drawn by Gene Luen Yang and colored by Lark Pien. It was originally published in 2006 under Square Fish, a Macmillian imprint. It is a self contained one-shot. You can pick it up at most book stores, and possibly even your local comic shop. If you can't find it there, it is available for order on Amazon.