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A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this book.
Teens who read this book might be inspired to learn more about the Monkey King and may be inspired to learn about fables from China and other cultures. An over-the-top stereotypically Chinese character will give sophisticated readers something to talk about: Why would the author make that choice? There also are a range of other topics that the book raises, from the value of graphic novels to the importance of acceptance.
Strong messages about the importance of tolerance and self-acceptance.
Positive Role Models
Jin Wang is the only Chinese American at his middle school and doesn't want associate with Wei-Chen, a newcomer from Taiwan. All-American boy Danny is embarrassed by his cousin from China, whom he sees as obnoxious and backward. Both boys have something to learn from the stubborn Monkey King, a figure from Chinese mythology.
Violence & Scariness
Several fights and kung-fu punches are more emotionally hurtful than physically so. A monk is impaled by a spear and prepared for roasting (he's saved). Chin-Kee carries a fried cat gizzard in a takeout box as his lunch.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
Some innuendo and nonspecific fantasies. A boy gives a girl permission to "pet my lizard anytime." Another compliments a girl on her "bountiful Amellican bosom" and directs a subtle sexual reference at her. There are instances of dating and kissing as well.
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Characters are taunted with anti-Asian ethnic slurs, including "chink," "nippy," and "gook." Chin-Kee's name can be seen as a subtle reference to an ethnic insult as well. Infrequent use of "hell."
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Products & Purchases
Fast-food outlet mentioned. Children are shown playing with Transformers toys as well as watching Transformers on TV.
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
A teen smokes a cigarette.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Gene Luen Yang's American Born Chinese is the first graphic novel to be nominated for a National Book Award and the first to win the American Library Association's Michael L. Printz Award for young-adult literature. It's easy to see why: The art, clever story lines, and thoughtful messages about tolerance and acceptance make it a winner. There's some sexual innuendo, potty humor, kung fu fighting, and a fairly graphic scene in which a monk is impaled on a spear and put on a spit over a fire, though he's rescued. An over-the-top, stereopypical depiction of a Chinese character -- and each of the protagonists' search for acceptance -- make this a better fit for teen readers who have the sophistication to understand the author's intent.
Is It Any Good?
This superb blending of art and story broke barriers and won awards, and will speak to any reader who's felt like an outsider and struggeled to fit in. In American Born Chinese, author-illustrator Gene Luen Yang uses a rather complex narrative structure that blends folklore and school drama. The first graphic novel to win the Michael L. Printz Award for Excellence in Young Adult Literature, it was also the first to be a finalist for the National Book Award -- truly marking the coming of age and acceptance of the graphic novel as a branch of children's literature.
In addition to its literary complexity, the book promotes solid values of tolerance and self-acceptance. Readers should be savvy enough to understand why Yang introduces a character that embodies negative stereotypes of Chinese people (buck teeth, squinty eyes, bright yellow skin, and he can't pronounce his "r's" or "l's"). American Born Chinese is thoughtful, funny, heartbreaking, and rich in compassion.
Did we miss something on diversity?
Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.
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Our Editors Recommend
Graphic Novels and Memoirs
Books with Asian, Asian American, and Pacific Islander Characters
Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.See how we rate