Allison's Book Bag

An Award-Winning Graphic Novel

Posted on: May 9, 2013

Jin Wang starts at a new school where he’s the only Chinese-American student. When a boy from Taiwan joins his class, Jin doesn’t want to be associated with an FOB like him. Jin just wants to be an all-American boy, because he’s in love with an all-American girl.

Danny is an all-American boy: great at basketball, popular with the girls. But his obnoxious Chinese cousin Chin-Kee’s annual visit is such a disaster that it ruins Danny’s reputation at school, leaving him with no choice but to transfer somewhere he can start all over again.

The Monkey King has lived for thousands of years and mastered the arts of kung fu and the heavenly disciplines. He’s ready to join the ranks of the immortal gods in heaven. But there’s no place in heaven for a monkey.

Each of these characters cannot help himself alone, but how can they possibly help each other? They’re going to have to find a way—if they want fix the disasters their lives have become.

The above description from Amazon is about American Born Chinese, a graphic novel by Gene Luen Yang. American Born Chinese became the first graphic novel to be nominated for a National Book Award and the first to win the American Library Association’s Printz Award.


Gene Luen Yang was born August 1973 in California.  His parents,  an electrical engineer  and a programmer, taught him the importance of developing a strong work ethic and the value of education.

One of only a few Asian Americans that attended his elementary school, Yang was teased and ridiculed. Consequently, he grew up uncomfortable being Asian in the United States. Although his parents consistently sought to strengthen his cultural identity, reinforcing their Asian culture by reading Taiwanese books to him and making up fictional stories about a Taiwanese village boy, Yang still struggles with this identity.

Yang’s dream was to major in art and become a Disney animator, but his dad wanted him to “do something practical” and so he majored in computer science with a minor in creative writing. After college, he worked as an engineer for two years, and then sought spiritual direction from God for his future. Hoping that Yang would continue in the engineering field, his dad sent him newspaper clippings that contained information about salaries.  Yang ignored his dad and pursued a career in education.

In 1996, Yang created American Born Chinese.  He wanted to write about what it means to be Asian American and to explore his feelings about his cultural identity. Since this time, Yang has written and drawn a number of stories in comics. Now Yang is not only an accomplished writer, but also a teacher.

Married and with two children, Yang blends family and work time by writing for hours after the children have gone to bed.  He travels all over the world and speaks at comic book conventions and teen book clubs. For Yang, one of the perks of having a successful book is that he can “work on comics now and not feel guilty about it”.

The above information mostly came from: Beyond the Pale Books.


Prior to American Born Chinese, Yang had created a few stories with Asian-American protagonists. However, because his ethnic heritage is such an important part of him, Yang knew that eventually he’d need to deal head-on with the Asian-American experience. Even so, according to The Millions, Yang had originally intended to write a straightforward Monkey King adaptation. “But after seeing so many brilliantly done straight adaptations in Asia I felt that I had to do something that none of those Asian artists could do. And that was [to] use the story to talk about the Asian-American experience.”

American Born Chinese interweaves three stories: an adaptation of the Chinese classic Journey to the West which featured the famous Monkey King; a sitcom parody which stars a horrendous Asian-American stereotype named Chin-Kee; and a more straightforward tale of a Chinese-American adolescent who balances a friendship with a recent Chinese immigrant and his infatuation with a white girl at his school. On his blog, Yang says that he came up with three ideas but couldn’t decide which one was the best. American Born Chinese is him doing all three at once!

Initially, Yang produced American Born Chinese as mini-comics, hand-printed comics that were photocopied and given away to friends or sold at comic book shows.  Ultimately though, he decided to publish American Born Chinese in a traditional format where, according to Beyond the Pale Books, he hopes it will serve as a “bridge” in the comic industry between comics for young adults and middle-age adults.

To read more about the origins of American Born Chinese, check out these three links:

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