There are some stories, which when you read them, feel like they were meant to be told in comic book format. Gene Luen Yang’s funny and touching coming-of-age tale about the son of Chinese immigrants is one of them.
There are three narratives in American Born Chinese.
There is a mythical Chinese fable featuring the Monkey King who struggles for acceptance in the kingdom of heaven.
Jim Wang, an introverted second generation Chinese boy, goes through school with the added trepidation borne of being a minority. Jim’s attempts to come into his own are depicted hilariously by flashes of lightening that course through his newly acquired perm – jolts of confidence that momentarily lead him to overcome his shyness and pursue his desires.
And finally Danny, an all-American teenager, is visited by his unabashedly Chinese cousin Chin-kee who promptly starts following him around school. Danny’s embarrassment – brought about by stereotypical cultural displacement anecdotes centered on Chin-kee – is punctuated by laughter lettered between panels – evoking a laugh track from a hidden audience in a sitcom.
The three narratives collide in the end. And despite being a tad heavy-handed it feels genuine and heartfelt. To keep the focus on the story and its characters, American Born Chinese is rendered in basic artwork (clean lines, no shading, head-on perspective) and coloring that evokes the delicate pastels of Chinese landscape art.