American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang

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Yang, Gene Luen.  American Born Chinese. First Second Books, 2006.  $16.95, 234 p.

Link to Author’s Website:  http://geneyang.com/

Links to Interviews with Author:

Links to Reviews Available Online:

Reader’s Annotation:

Enjoy the antics of an all powerful Monkey God, a boy trying to fit in, and a caricature wreaking havoc.

Summary:

The Monkey God happily rules over his subjects until one day when he is denied entrance to a dinner party with the gods because he is a monkey.  He then tries to master every discipline he can to demonstrate his godliness rather than his monkey-ness.  Still shunned, he is eventually trapped under a mountain of rocks by Tze-Yo-Tzuh for 500 years.  Jin Wang has faced various challenges since moving away from Chinatown.  People massacre his name, make fun of the food he eats, and his only “friend” is a bully.  He eventually befriends Wei-Chen Sun, a new student from Taiwan.  Danny is just trying to live a normal life.  He almost succeeds, until his cousin Chin-Kee comes to visit.  Danny finds himself so completely embarrassed by the stereotypes Chin-Kee embodies that he has to move schools after each visit.  The Monkey God, Jin, and Danny’s very different stories are woven together in this entertaining graphic novel about identity.

Evaluation:

Gene Luen Yang conveys a theme about identity in his graphic novel American Born Chinese.  The protagonists in the three storylines each learn something about who they are.  In the Monkey God’s storyline, the Monkey God is trapped because he has changed so completely from who he was.  He is freed, literally and figuratively, when he accepts who he is (a monkey).  As his true form he can accomplish many more things.  In Jin’s story, he is so uncomfortable being Chinese, that he is willing to sell his soul to look like his white peers.  When he does so, he becomes Danny, but is haunted by Chin-Kee a gross stereotype of Asians.  Danny is only freed of Chin-Kee when he accepts his Chinese heritage.  Jin is freed from being Danny, and can enjoy being himself.  The graphics are clean and brightly colored.  The writing style is appealing and the story line engaging.  The struggle with identity is clearly and cleverly portrayed in this graphic novel.

Rating Scale:

  • Popularity: 4
  • Quality: 4

Genre and Subgenre:  fiction, graphic novel

Appeal Factors: graphic novel,Chinese identity, high school life, fitting in, humor

Readalike Titles or Authors:

  • Boxers and Saints by Gene Luen Yang
  • One Hundred Demonsby Lynda Barry
  • The Brief Wonderful Life of Oscar Who by Junot Diaz

Awards Won and Book Lists:

  • Printz Award
  • National Book Award Nominee
  • Eisner Award

Booktalking Ideas:

  • Cousin Chin-Kee
  • Struggles with identity
  • Monkey King being laughed at by other gods

Book Discussion Questions or Ideas:

  • How does each of the three stories deal with fitting in?
  • Why does Luen use the Monkey King’s story?
  • There are many humorous parts to this graphic novel.  Is the humor an appropriate way to deal with these serious issue of race and identity?

Why I Chose This:

I chose this title because it was a graphic novel.  I was also interested because I am Chinese American and was curious to see who and how the American Born Chinese of the title would be characterized and portrayed.

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Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai

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Lai, Thanhha. Inside Out and Back Again. Harper Collins, 2011. $ 15.99, 272 pages.

Link to Author’s Website: http://www.harpercollins.com/authors/36544/Thanhha_Lai/index.aspx

Links to Interviews with Author:

Links to Reviews Available Online:

http://blogs.slj.com/teacozy/2011/11/01/review-inside-out-and-back-again/

Reader’s Annotation:

Ha and her family escape war torn Vietnam and must find a way to fit in to their new home across the world.

Summary:

With three older brothers, a papaya tree she has grown from a seed, and plenty of friends, Ha is happy with life as she knows it in Vietnam.   But at the beginning of the new year when the fortune teller tells her mother that the family’s life is about to be twisted inside out, Ha has no way of knowing just how different life is going to be.  As things worsen with the war, Ha’s family is offered a chance to get out of the country.  Soon, Ha finds herself leaving everything that is familiar and being stuck at sea for a month with not enough food or water, battling sea sickness and homesickness, and faced with the decision of where the family would end up.  After spending time at a refugee camp, Ha and her family finally make their new home in Alabama.  However, Ha struggles with the language, bullying, loneliness, strange new foods, and longing for all that is familiar.  Through the love and support of her family, kind neighbors, and her own strength, Ha slowly starts to assimilate and make a new life where they now find themselves.

Evaluation:

Thanhha Lai’s beautifully written Inside Out and Back Again tells the immigrant story from yet another perspective.  Written in verse, the rhythm and figurative language paint a vivid picture of a plucky young girl uprooted from the only home she knew and transplanted in a foreign, and often hostile, new land.  Ha’s character is likeable because of her spirit.  She often questions things and perseveres through whatever hardships her family is faced with.  As a ten year old, Ha is not overemotional, and instead deals with each new thing as it happens, often taking it at its most simplistic level.  Because of Ha’s use of Vietnamese words, some of the language is more complex and maybe harder to access for some readers.  Similarly, the verse style may also pose difficulties for other readers.

Rating Scale:

  • Popularity:1 – Would sit on shelves unread; 2 – May see the light of day as an assigned reading; 3 – Interesting to readers, may need marketing; 4 – Very appealing read, ; 5 – Need multiple copies, because it would always be checked out!
  • Quality: 1 – How was this book ever published?; 2 – Poor literary quality; 3 – Average literary quality, nothing stands out as exceptional; 4 – Overall high quality literary quality, with certain areas of exceptional literary quality; 5 – Well-crafted of the highest literary quality
  • Popularity: 4
  • Quality: 4

Genre and Subgenre:  realistic fiction, historical fiction, poetry

Appeal Factors:  verse style, vivid descriptions, immigrant experience, family relationships

Readalike Titles or Authors:

  • Wild Girl by Patricia Reilly Giff
  • All the Broken Pieces by Ann E. Burg
  • Home of the Brave by Katherine Applegate

Awards Won and Book lists:

  •  2011 National Book Award for Young People’s Literature
  • Newbery Honor Book

Booktalking Ideas:

  • Leaving Saigon watching the bombing
  • Daily life on the navy ship
  • Ha’s impression of America

Book Discussion Questions or Ideas:

  • Why does Ha say that she would choose wartime Saigon over peacetime Alabama?
  • How does Ha’s family help her assimilate to their new life?
  • How would the story change if it were written as a narrative?  How does the verse style add to the overall story?

Why I Chose This:

I chose this novel because of the way it was written.  I enjoyed the verse style and then the character of Ha pulled me in.  She was brave and spunky and rose to met all the challenges that she and her family faced.  Her story was also appealing because it told the immigrant story from a Vietnamese immigrant’s point of view, which I was not as familiar with.