Note: This is a review as part of our Worldview Dilemmas in the Movies and Comics series.
This is the third comic by Gene Luen Yang that I read. The first two works I read by Gene Yang were his later works, Boxers and Saints, which impressed me enough that I decided that I have to read American Born Chinese which was the Graphic Novel that made Yang popular. The book has countless awards such as being the National Book Award Finalist for Young People Literature, the first Graphic Novel to achieve this status. While I enjoyed Boxers and Saints more than I did American Born Chinese, I must say that American Born Chinese was still a pleasant leisure reading.
The book tells the story of an American Born Chinese boy growing up in America. Throughout the book the author tells his story with great humor and insightful to the phenomenon of being second generation American while having traditional Chinese parents. I’m sure American Born Chinese would be able to identify with it. The book is partly autobiographical—like the main character Jin Wang, Gene Yang also had parents who first met in the Library. Also like the main character Yang also grew up listening to the story of the Monkey King, which comes out in the book. The book is creative, with the author balancing what at first seems like three stories that later comes together (I won’t spoil it). I loved how the three stories are foils to the American Born Chinese experience. In fact even within the main story of Jin Wang there are wonderful characters that are foils to Jin Wang himself. Wang tries very hard to fit into America and has some success but this is in contrast to those who were more recent immigrants.
I know that as a pastor reviewing this book the question among some would be “What can we learn spiritually after reading this book?” I think the book brings greater awareness of negative Chinese stereotypes in our culture today. Those in ministry with Asian American background might want to be conscious of those. The stories in the book should also shed awareness that there are different kinds of cultural barriers, even among those who are Asian Americans. I am not bringing this up to say we must idolize certain specific cultures (or sub-cultures), and I also appreciate the fact that the author doesn’t really point fingers, having had enough personally of all the stock liberal neo-colonial and ethnic studies dribble in my undergraduate days. But being aware of certain cultural current should allow us to be better friends and better minister to people who are different than us culturally.
The book at times did have it’s quirky moments. Sometimes it’s a bit slap-stick or it made me say, “Awkard…” However, it is still insightful and a good story. After reading this book and comparing how much he has improved with his story telling in later works, I hope to see the author produce more works in the future, works that I will read whenever the opportunity for leisure reading arises.