I always had some trouble working through graphic novels. I love books of comic strips—my parents own dog-eared collections of Calvin and Hobbes, Foxtrot, Get Fuzzy, and The Far Side. But full-length graphic novels are more difficult for me to work through. Every one that I had looked at seemed dark and bloody, or difficult to follow, or cheesy, or… or… or…
Then I read American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang. I’m not going to tell you that suddenly I embraced all graphic novels, that I’ve become an ambassador for the form, that it changed my life… but when I finished, I did understand for the first time why people would read and write graphic novels.
The story follows three different characters: Jin, a Chinese-American teen struggling to deal with the racism he encounters from his classmates; Danny, another teen dealing with the embarrassment caused by a visit from his Chinese cousin Chin-Kee; and the Monkey King of Flower-Fruit Mountain, a mythical figure from Chinese folklore. I don’t want to give anything away, so I won’t explain how these different stories come together—I’ll just tell you that it is extremely well done and worth the read.
If you haven’t yet tried graphic novels, or if you’ve struggled with them as I have, I highly recommend giving American Born Chinese a try. I can’t guarantee you’ll come away wanting to read every other graphic novel ever written, but I do think you’ll be satisfied with this read.