Monday, January 5, 2009

In praise of the book, "American Born Chinese"

For Chinese people or people in the know, American Born Chinese are known as ABC, and different from Chinese immigrants (be their parents or their distant cousins), they have to cope with a different set of tribulations, and many of these are psychological. This book, or rather, graphic novel, follows the tradition of Frank Chin's angry plays ("The Year of the Dragon" and especially, "The Chickencoop Chinaman") and Maxine Hong Kingston's Americanization (or rather, Asian-Americanization) of Chinese folklore in "Tripmaster Monkey", and provides a 21-century spin on growing-up Asian/American in the USA. In fact, I have to wonder whether the young brilliant author Gene Luen Yang has read Chin's and Kingston's works -- he must have since these are part of the "canon" now. 
All the above probably makes the book sound rather dry, it would be my fault. The book is a wonderful combination of humor, irony, insightful reflections, and great story-telling. It is a wonderful and short read: my husband, my 10-year-old, and I passed the book along and finished reading it in one night. You obviously do not have to be an ABC, or an Asian American, or an Asian for that matter, to appreciate the underlying theme of this book: you have to learn who you really are and appreciate who you are to begin to reach your full potential, and to truly feel that you belong wherever you go.  The theme of "trying to fit in" will resonate with any young person (and not so young) trying to find a place in the world for themselves. 
The book has won several awards, including the National Book Award for Young People. 

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