American Born Chinese: graphic novel wins Printz Award!

American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang; published by First Second, an imprint of Roaring Brook Press, a division of Holtzbrinck Publishing Holdings Limited Partnership, New York, 2006; 233 pages.

Jin Wang is a first-generation American; his parents emigrated from China when they were college students.  This is Jin’s story, and it is told in three ways: as a parable, a satire, and in his voice.  The parable of the Monkey King teaches that wishing to be more that what you are has consequences, in this case, consequences of mythical proportions.  In the satire, Chin-Kee is the painfully stereotypical Chinese cousin of Danny, a painfully archetypal American teenager; stereotypes define these characters.  In Jin Wang’s story, he struggles with his identity—his teachers and classmates have labeled him “Chinese” but he sees himself as an American.  By the final chapter, the threads of all three stories come together to weave the coming of age tale of a teenager struggling with his identity.  Yang’s decision to tell this story in a graphic novel is perfect, especially in the final chapter where the intermingling of the images from all three stories help the reader unravel the common thread.

American Born Chinese is proof that graphic novels are not just for reluctant readers or for a quick, mindless read.  The character development is exceptionally deep, in spite of the format.  Telling the same story in three voices and then combining them into a single, strong voice in the final chapter is genius.  With the middle school years being fraught with growing pains and hormones, the tale of Jin Wang’s struggle with identity will resonate with readers in that age bracket.  My hat is off to the Michael Printz Award committee that selected this graphic novel for the award.

3P     5Q     Grades 6-9

ALACover Art: The image of a boy holding a Transformer will make this book more interesting since the second Transformer movie opens this summer.  The bright yellow cover and comic book art will also attract attention.  The black on orange title on the spine will stand out on the book shelves.  

From Reading List: Michael L. Printz Award, 2007 Winner

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