Reader’s Response Journal: American Born Chinese

American Born ChineseCitation:

Yang, Gene Luen, and Lark Pien. American Born Chinese. New York: First Second, 2006. Print.

Plot:

The Monkey King longs to be a powerful god but ends up trapped under a mountain until he learns humility by accepting his true nature as a monkey. Danny is horrified by the visit of his nuisance, stereotypical Chinese cousin Chin-Kee who seems set on embarrassing him. Jin Wang is a Chinese American boy who hates being one of the few Asians at his school and longs to fit in with an American girlfriend. Eventually, through a conflict between Jin Wang and his immigrant friend Wei-Chen, we learn that the seemingly unrelated storylines of the Monkey King, Chin-Kee, Danny, Jin Wang and Wei-Chen are actually just different manifestations of the same lesson. Jin Wang and the others learn that a Chinese American identity is complicated, yet significant, and there is still a lot discover.

Setting:

Heaven, probably “long ago” in China. Chinatown and Oakland, California (or possibly some other ethnically white-dominant American town), during a contemporary time period.

Point of View:

3rd person

Theme:

Identity, biculturalism, relationships, escapism, stereotyping, racism, shame, conformity, coming-of-age

Literary Quality:

Yang skillfully weaves a complex and rich storyline together in a seemingly simple graphic novel form. The illustrations do not lessen the powerful message and themes of the book. The use of humor and hyperbole make for a story that is engaging to youth, while exploring serious topics. This book can also serve as a strong example of the potential of graphic novels as quality literature. Among others, it received a Printz Award and was a National Book Award Finalist.

Quality of Illustrations:

The illustrations of characters and their surroundings are memorable and interesting. They also create an obvious satire that helps support the identity conflict of the main characters. The colors are vivid yet muted, with bright tones for action and more subdued hues for serious moments. Important ideas and words are represented with bolded text.

Cultural Authenticity:

The author, like his protagonist Jin Wang, is the son of Chinese immigrants and grew up in California. By making it very obvious that Chin-Kee is a stereotyped character and confronting issues common to many Asian-American youth, Yang successfully portrays bicultural identity formation. Yang also creatively included traditional elements from Chinese culture through the fable of the Monkey King as well as American pop culture like Transformers and Ricky Martin music. There are even Chinese characters included around page borders and in the illustrations (though no real explanation of their meanings).

Audience:

This book seems to be aimed at a middle school and high school audience. There is some juvenile humor (the monkey urinating on the god-figure’s hand or Chin-Kee peeing in a boy’s Coke) and some sexual references (“you can pet my lizard” and “bear Chin-Kee’s children”). Since the book does combine several story strands together, it might be difficult for concrete-thinkers to fully comprehend the final message without several re-reads.

Personal Reaction:

This book was my first serious experience with a graphic novel that could be considered literature. I have probably only read one other, and it was a random, uninformed book selection that did not leave me wanting for more. Initially with American Born Chinese, I struggled to see how the stories were interrelated, even as I finished the book. It took more several more looks to see the layers and the complexity of the satire in Chin-Kee’s depiction. It even took me a bit to recognize the symbolism in the Monkey King’s evolution as a character. However, when I finally understood the parallels between Danny and Jin Wang and then Chin-Kee and Wei-Chen (as well as the ties between Jin Wang, Wei-Chen and the Monkey King), I realized the brilliance of Yang’s text. In creating such an intricate story, he also defined the complex nature of what it means to be Asian-American.

Reader’s Response Journal: Where the Mountain Meets the Moon

Where the Mountain Meets the MoonCitation:

Lin, Grace. Where the Mountain Meets the Moon. New York: Little, Brown and Co., 2009. Print.

Plot:

After witnessing the sacrifices of her parents and continually hearing the despair of her mother over their poverty, young Minli decides to leave on a journey to consult with the Old Man of the Moon on how to change her family’s fortune. During her journey she befriends a lonely, flightless dragon, an orphan boy who tends to a water buffalo, a king masquerading as a beggar, and a set of twins who defeat a dangerous tiger. Each of them helps her get closer to her destination while teaching her the value and meaning of life. When she finally meets the Old Man of the Moon, she is given the opportunity to ask only one question of him and is faced with a choice that ultimately changes the life of her family and entire village.

Setting:

Traditional Historic China, near the Jade River and the mountains.

Point of View:

3rd person

Theme:

Coming-of-age, gratitude, greed and discontent, importance of family and friends

Literary Quality:

The book is a blend of fantasy and Chinese folk literature that explores universal themes surrounding contentment. The language is reminiscent of traditional folktales from other cultures, while adding charm and authenticity to the story. When a side-story or legend is recounted, it is offset by a different font and title decoration. The book was well-received when it was published, winning the Newbery Honor Medal and multiple other awards and best-book honors.

Cultural Authenticity:

Lin was motivated to write this book after a thorough exploration of several Chinese folktale and fairy-tale books introduced to her as a pre-teen and then continuing with travels to South Asia as an adult. She found ways to integrate her Asian-American sensibilities of a spirited heroine while honoring the traditional folk literature of her Chinese heritage. Lin includes a bibliography of some of the Chinese folktales from which she drew her inspiration. The simple illustrations throughout the book appear to be in the style of traditional Chinese art and basic Chinese symbols, meant to complement elements of the plot.

Audience:

Though the precise age of the protagonist is unclear, this book is geared toward an upper elementary-aged audience. The tale is sweet and uncomplicated by edgy, adult topics. The language is descriptive but not bogged down by complex constructions or difficult vocabulary, making it accessible to younger readers.

Personal Reaction:

I found the Lin’s book to be compelling and delightful. I enjoyed each episode as Minli progressed in her quest and was very interested in what would happen next. It was nice not to be sure of how the book would end, while at the same time, I was fairly optimistic that it would work out in Minli’s favor somehow. I was a little skeptical that the book could have universal appeal, given its traditional title and cover art. To me, this might limit the audience who would consider reading it, but I cannot think of a better alternative. Instead, it seems that its reputation and positive reviews should hold it in an esteemed place as part of quality children’s literature.