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American Born Chinese is a graphic novel by Gene Luen Yang. Released in 2006 by First Second Books, it was a finalist for the 2006 National Book Awards in the category of Young People's Literature. It won the 2007 Michael L. Printz Award and the 2007 Eisner Award for Best Graphic Album: New. It was the first graphic novel recognized by the National Book Foundation. It was colored by cartoonist Lark Pien, who received the 2007 Harvey Award for Best Colorist for her work on the book.
The book starts out with three seemingly different tales, and then merges them all together at the climax.
The second tale is the story of a second-generation immigrant from China named Jin Wang, who still is heavily influenced by Chinese culture. The story follows his life through the making of his best friend, to him falling in love with a girl, and many adventures in between.
The third tale follows the story of an American boy named Danny, whose Chinese cousin Chin-Kee comes and visits every year. Chin-Kee is the ultimate Chinese stereotype in terms of accent, fashion sense, hairstyle, appearance, and hobbies.
The high school Danny attends is called "Oliphant High School", which Yang has said he named after political cartoonist Pat Oliphant, in response to a comic he took offense to. Many of Chin-Kee's stereotypical quirks are also lifted from this cartoon.
The first tale is about the Monkey King who goes to a celestial dinner party, but is denied entrance because he is a monkey and does not wear shoes.
The second story then begins with a Chinese American boy, Jin Wang, who has moved to a new home. An old woman tells him he can be anything he wants, if he is willing to forfeit his soul. Jin told her he wanted to be a Transformer. When he goes to school, the teacher mispronounces his name, boys pick on him, and rumors arise that he is betrothed to a Japanese girl named Suzy Nakamura. Two months later, a new student from Taiwan arrives, named Wei Chen. At first Jin wants to beat him up, but later the two become friends, bonding over Wei Chen's Transformer toy.
The third story is about an American boy named Danny, and his Chinese cousin, Chin-Kee. Danny is having a study date with a friend, Melanie. When he is about to ask her out, his parents announce that his cousin, Chin-Kee, has come for his annual visit. Chin-Kee insults Melanie, and causes her to leave in a huff.
The first tale about the Monkey King then resumes. He has decreed that all his subjects wear shoes, then locks himself in his chamber to learn the twelve disciplines of kung fu, when he is summoned to the underwater kingdom to be executed. He goes around causing havoc, until Tze-Yo-Tzuh ("He who is"), his creator, stops him. As a result, the Monkey King flees, carving his name into five pillars of gold at the end of his trip, as well as relieving himself on one of the pillars. Afterward, he again meets his creator, who shows him his fingers, which were in reality the five pillars of gold. Tze-Yo-Tzuh then buries the Monkey King in a mountain of rubble. (This is a famous Chinese historical tale.)
The second tale resumes at this point. In the 7th grade, Jin begins to notice a classmate of his, Amelia Harris, and develops a crush on her. Later on, Wei Chen and Suzy start to date. One day, Wei Chen and Amelia get trapped in a supply closet and Jin comes to their rescue, asking Amelia out, who eagerly accepts.
The third tale resumes. Chin-Kee answers every question the teachers ask, pees in Danny's friend's drink, and even brings a dead cat in his food for lunch.
The first tale resumes yet again. After many years, the Monkey King is asked by an unworthy monk to release himself from the mountain he is buried under so he can be the monk's disciple. At first, he rejects, but when the monk is injured by two giant monsters, he returns to his true form, and uses his disciplines to get rid of the giants. He takes the monk to the nearest village, and then begins his journey to the west.
The second tale now follows Jin taking Amelia to the movies. About to put his arm around her, Jin had a smelly armpit, so he covers up the scent with soap, thanks to advice from a friend. However, after the movie, the soap bubbles got onto Amelia's shoulder, but then dried off. The next day, Jin is asked by Greg not to date her again. He ignores him, but later on, as Jin attempts to date Amelia again, Greg seemed to be nearby. With no other choice left, Jin turns to Suzy, who had an urge to kiss her, but she punched him in the cheek. Wei Chen does the same later after Jin told him not to be an FOB. That night, he dreamed of the herbalist's wife, and woke up with his head hurting, thus revealing himself to be Danny, in the third tale.
The third tale now resumes, and Jin (now Danny) fights with Chin-Kee after stopping him from singing loudly on a table in the library. Danny punches his head, and it flew off, revealing Chin-Kee to be the monkey king in disguise.
The Monkey king reverts Danny back to Jin, and tells him the Wei Chen is the son of the monkey king. He said he visited him often, but after he was mad about him lying, and therefore, refused his visits. That's why the monkey king came as Chin-Kee, not to punish Jin, but to serve as his conscience. Afterwords, Jin started visiting a bakery from a business card the monkey king left behind, and then saw Wei Chen outside with a car, cigarettes, and everything. Jin went out to tell him that he saw his father (the Monkey king) earlier. To answer why Jin was telling this to Wei-Chen, it was that he was trying to apologize to him. He accepts.
- First Second - Creators - Gene Yang - Blog, essay on the book by author Gene Yang
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