American Born Chinese. Gene Luen Yang (2006).
NY: First Second. ISBN: 978-0312384487
I'm a reluctant reader of sorts, the graphic novel sorts. This is only the second graphic novel I've ever read, while I enjoyed the first, I wouldn't say I was eager to read another. This one caught my eye first, if I'm honest, because it is colorful, and second, if I'm honest, because it's short! By the end of the first section (it is in three parts), I was totally digging it for all the reasons I've avoided graphic novels in the past: the colorful, cartoony illustrations, the teeny thought bubble text, and the crazy emphatic action words. Perhaps it helps that this is a smart graphic novel, disguised as a comic book. This allows some weighty questions about racial identity and acceptance to sneak up on the reader, and not in an interfering way either.
Yang's story begins with three, seemingly unrelated stories: a retelling of the famous myth of the Monkey King, that of Jin Wang, the child of Chinese immigrants, and Danny, a Justin Timberlake lookalike with a crazy stereotypical Chinese cousin named Chin-kee (major play on words and into this stereotype) who is enrolling in Danny's high school during his extended visit. He gives each story ample air time, but the stories really shine when he begins to weave them together in an unanticipated fashion, which is really where the strength of the story lies. While each character has their own problems and challenges (the Monkey King desires equal god status, Jin Wang wants to fit in at his all white school, and Danny just wants to fly under the radar, while still getting the girl), these personal challenges have one common theme: acceptance, both of oneself, of others, and by others.
Best for: This book is fabulous and I highly recommend it. It covers weighty issues with no heavy lifting by employing the graphic and illustrative format, and consequently is an easy, yet sly sell to reluctant readers. This also makes it fun and accessible, and is great for both boys and girls of all YA ages. Also, I found out months after reading this that it won the Prinz in 2007. I salute you, my critically confirmed good taste. Self high five.
Book talk hook: The beautiful, colorful illustrations are all that I'd really need to sell this book to the audience I'd target for this at a book talk: young male readers. I'd probably do a summary, but since there is so much going on story wise, brevity is a wise choice.