Award-winning American Born Chinese, penned by Gene Luen Yang and colored by Lark Pien, is a multinarrative graphic novel about a teenage boy named Jin Wang who struggles to find and accept his cultural identity. Jin is the only Chinese American student at his new school, and all he really wants is to fit in with the rest of the kids, especially Amelia Harris, the pretty American girl with whom he falls in love. But Amelia never notices Jin, and he fades into the background. Soon, Jin is not the only Asian American student in his school—Wei-Chen arrives from Taiwan. But who wants to be friends with an FOB? After countless attempts to fit into the mainstream crowd, Jin settles for Wei-Chen’s friendship.
Intertwined with Jin’s story are those of other characters who also do not fit into their surroundings. The Monkey King has ruled for thousands of years and has mastered all the heavenly disciplines, yet he yearns to leave the monkeys behind to join the ranks of the gods. His foolish acts get him into five hundred years of trouble at the hands of Tze-Yo-Tzuh, and the Monkey King must then rely on the trust of a stranger to lead him toward redemption. In another story, Danny is a popular, athletic teenager whose life is amazing until his cousin Chin-Kee arrives from China. Chin-Kee is the epitome of Chinese stereotypes—eating cat gizzards, excelling in classes, speaking in broken English—and Danny wants to hide him away and pretend he does not exist. But Chin-Kee ends up going to school with Danny every day, ruining Danny’s reputation.
These three narratives alternate throughout the novel and arrive at a daring crossroads at the climax of the story. In the end, Jin realizes much about his perceptions of life and identity and sets off on his own path of redemption. Luckily, his best friend is there waiting.
Published in 2006 by Roaring Book Press, American Born Chinese was a finalist for the 2006 National Book Award in the category of Young People’s Literature. In the following year, the graphic novel picked up the Michael L. Printz Award for Excellence in Young Adult Literature. The novel has won numerous other awards and has received placement on “top ten comics” lists in Booklist and Time. Yang wrote American Born Chinese as a way to explore his own experiences growing up as an Asian American, and his novel is a valuable resource for exploring themes that revolve around acceptance, diversity, and identity.