American Born Chinese


Title:    American Born Chinese

Author:   Gene Luen Yang

Publisher:   New York: First Second, 2006

ISBN:  9781596431522

 About the author:  from Amazon:

Gene Luen Yang is currently serving as the Library of Congress’ fifth National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature. His 2006 book American Born Chinese was the first graphic novel to be nominated for a National Book Award and the first to win the American Library Association’s Michael L. Printz Award. It also won an Eisner Award. His 2013 two-volume graphic novel Boxers & Saints was nominated for the National Book Award and won the LA Times Book Prize. Gene currently writes Dark Horse Comics’ Avatar: The Last Airbender series and DC Comics’ Superman. Secret Coders, his middle-grade graphic novel series with cartoonist Mike Holmes, teaches kids the basics of computer programming.

 Plot: American Born Chinese entwines three stories of assimilation into one book. The first story is about Jin Wang, the only American teen of Chinese descent attending Mayflower school.  The second story is about The Monkey King, taken from Chinese folklore. The third story is about Danny, a teenage boy who also attends Mayflower.

Critical Evaluation: 

American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang incorporates three seemingly separate stories and ties them together smoothly and unexpectedly. This graphic novel tackles the subject of racism through the eyes of Jin Wang, and the cost losing himself by giving racism too much power.

Yang’s tone of his book is as amusing as it is angst-filled, combining everyday teenage issues with Jin’s social identity issues. The writing style is engaging, drawing us in to the intricately-plotted and compelling storyline. The characters are culturally diverse, as Jin Wang is the only American teen of Chinese descent who attends Mayflower School. He is American born, but his classmates and teachers do not see that. They only see his face and make an assumption about him that he is not American.

The main focus of the story is on Jin’s transformation from a person who desperately wants to fit in at school, to a young man who lives a life that is true to himself. We see his favorite toy, a transformer, symbolic of what he strives to be. Jin Wang’s love of the toy transformer is symbolic of his transformation from someone who wants to fit in with the others, to someone who is strong in himself. This character-driven story only progresses as Jin grows in self-respect.

When the blatantly stereotypical cousin Chin-Kee appears in one of the stories, onomatopoeia is used as ha ha laugh track at the bottom of the screen to remind us that when cousin Chin-Kee is on the page, we should not take him seriously.

It was surprising to see Jin react to the arrival of the new student Wei Chen at Mayflower school. He did not empathize with him as I expected, but reacted with hostility, in spite of the fact that they had a similar experience on arrival of the ironically named Mayflower school. As Jin says, “Something made me want to beat him up.”

American Born Chinese is a visually appealing graphic novel that has won many awards. With rich graphics and important messages about racial stereotypes. The illustrations in this book are colorful and cartoony. The bright colors used on the pages coupled with a worthwhile tale make this pleasant read.

Reading American Born Chinese with its rich graphics and important message about racial stereotypes, gives us a thoughtful story about race and popular culture.  The weaving of all three tales is perfectly done, although it wasn’t until the end of the novel when I realized how all three surprisingly connected.


Reader’s Annotation— Jin Wang just wants to fit in at Mayflower school. To what lengths will he go to assimilate into his new environment?

Genre— graphic novels

Curriculum Ties— historical fiction, immigration, cultural diversity

Booktalking Ideas– Talk about the history of propaganda and racism through the years. Have a few posters/flyers at hand to pass around. Ask young people to share their own thoughts of these images.

Reading Level: 12+

Interest Age:  14+

Challenge Issues:   racism, racial stereotypes, anti-ethnic, cultural insensitivity

Challenge Resources 

  • Library Selection Policy
  • Rationale explaining why the item was chosen for the collection
  • Active listening skills
  • Awards
  • Reconsideration form (as a last resort)
  • National Council of Teachers of English “Right to Read”
  • Positive and negative reviews: expert, parent, student
  • ALA Strategies and Tips for Dealing with Challenges to Library Materials
  • ALA Bill of Rights on Intellectual Freedom
  • Books and other library resources should be provided for the interest, information, and enlightenment of all people of the community the library serves. Materials should not be excluded because of the origin, background, or views of those contributing to their creation.
  • Libraries should provide materials and information presenting all points of view on current and historical issues. Materials should not be proscribed or removed because of partisan or doctrinal disapproval.

Why did you pick this for your collection?  

  • Booklist Editors’ Choice – Books for Youth – Older Readers Category: 2006
  • Eisner Awards: Best Graphic Album – New
  • Michael L. Printz Award
  • School Library Journal Best Books: 2006
  • YALSA Best Books for Young Adults: 2007
  • YALSA Great Graphic Novels for Teens: 2007
  • YALSA Popular Paperbacks for Young Adults: I’m New Here Myself (2013)