American Born Chinese Graphic Novel Review

Self-Identity is Still an Ongoing Issue

American Born Chinese (2023) Series Review 3

American Born Chinese

Brutalist Review Style (Version 2)

Going in the opposite direction, I watched Disney+’s new show American Born Chinese first, then picked up this graphic novel. I will preface that I would never have heard about this graphic novel if the show was not made. Crazy! But after reading American Born Chinese, it dawned on me that these were both two great pieces of work.

To add some special recognition to why this graphic novel received an amazing adaptation with an even more stunning cast, we can look at the novel’s awards. It was the winner of the Michael L. Printz Award, a New York Times bestseller, a 2006 National Book Award Finalist for Young People’s Literature, the winner of the 2007 Eisner Award for Best Graphic Album: New, an Eisner Award nominee for Best Coloring, and a 2007 Bank Street Best Children’s Book of the Year.

I would have been around ten years old when this novel first came out. It would have been an awesome book to read had I known it existed. I definitely did not see it in my Scholastic catalogue book they handed out back in elementary and middle school (IFYKYK). Otherwise, I probably may have stumbled across convincing my parents to buy it.

American Born Chinese Graphic Novel 2

Or perhaps, it comes to show that diversity and inclusion were still very saturated back then—especially in comparison to today. The most Pan-Asian voices I could recall were in young adult shows like Jackie Chan Adventures and American Dragon: Jake Long. There was always anime like Dragon Ball and Inuyasha, but not many Pan-Asian voices in every day shows or books—at least not greatly exposed or dignified.

On the topic of diversity and inclusion of then versus now, I felt like this original conception of American Born Chinese was an accurate portrayal of growing up as an American-born Chinese child in the 90s or early 2000s. It felt a little outdated on some of the blatant stereotypes, but it was definitely a societal issue being grappled with at the time—and most likely exists now in a different form.

Of course, it is a lot easier to say this now, but I did prefer the style of the show when dealing with the teenage/high school drama moment—only because they were a bit more relatable to kids nowadays. I also enjoyed the show more for its ability to show different perspectives of Jin Wang’s parents and other adults in his life, like Amelia’s parents and her dynamic with them. And lastly, the kung-fu fighting sequences of the show definitely livened up the moments of life-ending adolescent drama with actual potential life-ending fights.

American Born Chinese Graphic Novel 3

The highlights of the American Born Chinese graphic novel were how it served as a better foundation for understanding the lore and backstory of The Monkey King, aka Sun Wukong. I felt like his character was more fleshed out and showed how fallible he was in his youth. We got to see it in the show, but it was a little obscure on the moral of that backstory episode with him and the Bull Demon.

American Born Chinese has proven that it is a graphic novel that can withstand the test of time by addressing ongoing issues of race.”

American Born Chinese did hit hard in its own way, though; it did not pull punches or hold truth bombs back. The three stories of Jin Wang, the Monkey King, and Danny and his cousin, who was the most negative stereotypical personification of a Chinese person, Chin-Kee (smh, on the problematic name). The absolute courage it takes to smack the Chin-Kee character into this was jaw-dropping and had me so frustrated yet impressed with Yang’s storytelling and art. The nod to William Hung singing on American Idol in 2004 was a topical yet poignant choice of reference.

American Born Chinese Graphic Novel Review 4

The American Born Chinese graphic novel was something way ahead of its time. I am glad it is getting the recognition it deserves for its masterfully crafted intermingled tales. If you need a book to celebrate Pan-Asian Heritage Month this year, this is one to grab. It has the classic coming-of-age struggles; finding one’s self; and recognizing that it is okay to be who you are in your own skin—regardless of what others may say and discriminate against you. American Born Chinese has proven that it is a graphic novel that can withstand the test of time by addressing ongoing issues of race.

Final Thoughts

Ridge Harripersad
Ridge Harripersad

This post may contain affiliate links. If you use these links to buy something, CGMagazine may earn a commission. However, please know this does not impact our reviews or opinions in any way. See our ethics statement.

<div data-conversation-spotlight></div>