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From A Library: American Born Chinese

Welcome to From A Library Week – a whole week of reviews of comic books that I borrowed from my excellent local library. First up, American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang.

I enjoy reading reviews, particularly on the internet. The discussion of stories and the introduction to things I have not tried or even heard of before are a joy of the comics blogosphere. Of course they are not always right, but sometimes they get it right. And American Born Chinese is one of those cases.

I had heard a lot of positive things about this book, without giving it too much thought. It sounded like an impressive achievement, but it didn’t seem like the thought of thing I would try of my own accord. So, when it appeared in my local library, I was astonished; it didn’t sound like the sort of graphic novel that would be at home with the Marvel/DC/Buffy trade paperbacks that populate the shelves there. I had to read it, didn’t I?

The book starts with the Monkey King, turning violent when he is turned away from a party in Heaven. The next section is about Jin Wang, who wants nothing more than to grow up to be a Transformer, as he adapts to school being the only Chinese child in it, and when he is joined by Wei-Chen Sun from Taiwan, to whom he takes a dislike but ends up being friends with anyway. The final part of the story is a sitcom called ‘Everyone Loves Chin-Kee’, about the stereotyped racist Chinese man – yellow, buck-toothed, with the pigtail, speaking with the accent (‘So vely solly.’) – who is somehow cousin to an American boy called Danny, and will be attending school with him, much to Danny’s embarrassment.

The next chapters in each story relate how the characters want to integrate into their environs – Monkey King was to be treated as an equal, but is buried under rock by He Who Is when he cannot accept the truth; Jin tries to blend into school and is attracted to a girl in his class; Danny is mortified by Chin-Kee’s antics in school and worries that nobody will think of him as a person anymore, just as Chin-Kee’s cousin. The subsequent chapters reveal the linking thread between all three stories that resonates on the themes of the story.

It is rare that I am so thoroughly charmed by a comic book, especially when I wasn’t expecting it. I was expecting this to be ‘worthy’ or ‘heavy’; American Born Chinese was funny, real, moving, entertaining and meaningful. Gene Luen Yang has created a delightful piece of work, complemented by his startlingly vibrant artwork – cartoony yet stylish, dynamic yet designed, able to handle humour, action and drama with ease.

Thank you, internet, for letting me know about this wonderful comic book.

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