Yang, Gene Luen. American Born Chinese.

NY: Square Fish, 2006.

Jin Wang was born in San Francisco to parents recently arrived from Taiwan, so he grew up surrounded by his peers — until Third Grade, when the family moved to a new city and suddenly he’s the only Chinese kid in the school. A year later, Wei-Chen Sun arrives (F.O.B — “fresh off the boat”) and the two boys almost automatically become best friends.

You get the feeling there’s a fair amount of the author/artist’s personal growing-up experiences in this graphic novel, and that part of the narrative is pretty well done.

However, there are also the intermittent adventures of the Monkey King of Flower-Fruit Mountain, and that part is much less so. It’s a heavily re-imagined version of the classic “Journey to the West” story from Chinese folklore. So, the art is nice, and the completely expected thing about friendship and the lessons of growing up is okay, and this book — Yang’s breakthrough title — also won a number of awards from education and library organizations. So why isn’t it more successful as a whole work? I even reread the book, looking for whatever I missed. Must just be me.


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