starlady: the cover from Shaun Tan's The Arrival, showing an aquanaut in suburbia (i'm a stranger here myself)
[personal profile] starlady
Yang, Gene Luen. American Born Chinese. New York: First Second, 2006.

I went to the Diversity in YA kick-off event in San Francisco two weekends ago, and Gene Yang's signature on my copy of this book says, "Keep reading comics!" No fear of the opposite happening, Gene.

This book won both the Printz and the Eisner and was the first graphic novel nominated for the National Book Award, which considering that it came out in 2006 says several things at once right there. At the DiYA event Yang mentioned that he basically had no input on the book being submitted for consideration for the Printz, which is also interesting; I wouldn't tag this book YA, though I wouldn't say it's not YA, either. Like the best comics and graphic novels, its appeal defies age.

The story itself is three separate, and then not-so-separate, stories: the first follows the Monkey King, and his rather drastic efforts at self-reinvention after a snub at a party, culminating in his joining the Journey to the West. The second follows young Jin Wang, a student at Oliphant High who has one best friend, Weh-chen, and who wishes he could be someone else. The third seems the most unrelated: it follows Danny, a white high school student whose perfect life is destroyed every year by the arrival of his cousin Chin-kee for his annual visit from China. Only in the final chapter is it revealed that they're all connected, in a brilliant and really unnerving way.

As you might expect from the title, but less so from my summary above, the story is about race and identity and immigration and assimilation and dominant versus minority culture and navigating that matrix. Yang's art is really funny, and so is his text; it took me this entry by [personal profile] esmenet to really register the multilingualness (hybridity? polyvocality?) of the text, but now that I think about it, yeah: it's one of many brilliant touches on Yang's part. There are levels and levels to this book, and I probably should reread it now that I know the ending, which is first devastating (and also a bit like a knife to the kidneys in that it's so smoothly done) and then hopeful.

(no subject)

Date: 2011-05-18 18:07 (UTC)
sasha_feather: horses grazing on a hill with thunderheads (horses and lightning)
From: [personal profile] sasha_feather
I really liked this book; I should read it again.

(no subject)

Date: 2011-05-18 19:33 (UTC)
esmenet: Kaitou Kid grinning (:D no snipers this heist!)
From: [personal profile] esmenet
Yay, someone found my flailing and incoherent post useful! I have to say, I really didn't appreciate how brilliant American Born Chinese was until I sat down and started analyzing it panel by panel. (And I'm sure I would find it even more so if I really went through all of it that thoroughly, rather than just the Journey to the West bits.) The LA Chinatown signs outside the window in the first chapter were all in Chinese, too, and so was all the writing in the Journey to the West parts. And Jin calls his parents Ma and Ba! I love this book.

the ending, which is first devastating (and also a bit like a knife to the kidneys in that it's so smoothly done) and then hopeful.

Yes! That's a lovely description. Did you see the last panel, after the publishing info, with Jin and Wei-Chen in sports jerseys smiling at the video camera?

(no subject)

Date: 2011-05-19 00:52 (UTC)
troisroyaumes: Painting of a duck, with the hanzi for "summer" in the top left (Default)
From: [personal profile] troisroyaumes
When I first read this book, I really didn't like it because I didn't identify with Jin at all. I identified with Wei-chen and thought that Jin was an asshole. (These two sentences probably sum up my problem with most Asian-American Immigrant Narratives, haha.) But upon reread, I thought it worked remarkably well as a sort of Remyth, and I really liked the way that it retold and reworked the story of the Monkey King. (And of course, just because it didn't resonate with me doesn't mean that it doesn't resonate for a large number of second-generation immigrants out there--something that I think I've grown more reconciled to now.)

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