American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang is a middle grades graphic novel that has won the Michael L. Printz Award and I can fully understand why. The parallel stories of The Monkey King, Jin Wang, and last but not least, Danny are engaging and even amusing. All three characters struggle with identity and accepting who and what they are in the face of society’s stereotypes. Narratively intelligent, the drawings are likewise wonderfully executed, giving visual force to the emotional meaning of the story—from the humorous to the heartbreaking.
So why didn’t I adore this graphic novel? I will say I loved the first two parts of the Monkey King’s story but, when it came to the all-too human parts of the novel, I was simply uninterested. I felt for the two boys but I was turned off by the potty humor that was meant to lighten an otherwise serious narrative. Perhaps this novel suffered in my eyes which were still dazzled by the brilliance of The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie. After all, both novels address the issues of identity, of confronting stereotypes. But for me one novel simply did it better.
That is not to say I would not recommend this graphic novel. Not by any means. I can see where teachers could use it to encourage resistant readers while tackling serious topics such as racism. And both books have clever illustrations. Still, this book just didn’t do it for me and I can’t praise it with nearly the same enthusiasm as I did the other novel.