American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang


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

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Reader’s Annotation:

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


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.


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.