Tuesday, November 20, 2007

American Born Chinese by Gene Luch Yang

American Born Chinese by Gene Luch Yang

I originally chose this story for two reasons- first because it was the winner of the coveted Printz Award for Young Adult Literature, and second, it was a graphic novel. Because of reason number two many people were aghast that it won the Printz award and much controversy ensued as a result. So…I thought it might make for interesting discussion. Graphic novels have become the mostly widely circulated books in our collection and I was embarrassed to admit that I had not read any of them…so I thought this would be a good book to with which to start our blog.

I have to admit; at first I found the book to be a bit disconcerting…I found the three stories to be distracting…I kept waiting for the connection…I knew it had to be coming! I wasn’t disappointed. I felt the way the author pulled everything together was very ingenious; the way the stories blended together was great. I thought the messages about racism and stereotypes were excellent. Many of the reviews I read talked about how the message of accepting yourself as you are transcended the Chinese culture, that it was a message that all readers could benefit from. I’m not sure I’m sold on that thought. I wondered how many non-Asian readers would appreciate the story? If they would have the patience to see how the author was planning to pull everything together? Perhaps the exaggerated Chinese stereotype of Danny’s cousin would do the trick?

Overall, I liked the simple illustrations…I thought they were clean and sharp but effective in helping to tell the story. How did I like my foray into the world of Graphic Novels? I can definitely see the appeal to students, especially for reluctant readers. But I think I prefer an old fashioned novel. But I am happy to purchase them for our students.

Anxious to see what you all thought of the format, and the story.

Next book: Sold by Patrica McCormick

15 comments:

Amanda said...

I too was a bit turned off by the three different stories. I really didn't see how they could be related, but I was relieved when the connections were finally made. I really disliked the story of Danny and his cousin. The stereotyping was so exaggerated, I found it a bit annoying and obnoxious. I do see this story as a way for the author to really address the asian stereotypes head-on though, and I hope this shows readers how ridiculous some of these stereotyped ideas are.
I agree that graphic novels like this one would appeal to reluctant readers, though I still prefer the text versions. I found myself just jumping to the words and forced myself to go back and look at the pictures.
This was definitely an interesting way to show the complex issues that teenagers from different backgrounds, living in the United States have to deal with.

Dawn said...

I was turned off by the fact that this book was a graphic novel. I wondered how I would get through it or even get started because it just isn't my thing. In the end, I ended up reading the book quickly and enjoying it more than I expected.
I, unlike many of you, did not expect the three stories to come together. Since I have not read a graphic novel before, I had no expectation for it to come together in the end. I simply thought that the messages in the three stories were linked and that was it.
The one story that I really disliked was that of the Monkey King. I just felt like I was reaching for the purpose or point of the story and couldn't find it. I do think this book could be used to create discussion on stereotypes. Even pulling out a piece of one story could lead to an interesting discussion.
Overall, I believe I would recommend this book to students; however, I feel that finding the right student to read this graphic novel may be a bit tricky.

cathy said...

Like the rest of you I prefer the regular novel to the graphic novel. Having said that I think my students would like to read graphic novels. Most of my students are reluctant readers and the graphic novel packs the punch of not many words, pictures, similar to fast paced internet and has meaning.
Kathy you could add this book to the Global list. I liked the story of the Monkey King. It shows the traditional mind of the Chinese. It is difficult for our students to understand that the traditional Chinese do not think in the "now" they think in terms of generations. Also much of the Chinese philosophy is in terms of proverbs.
I thought that all students could identify with this book. Anyone who has experienced being different would identify with the Asian characters.Hopefully others would see how cruel people can be towards those that are different. I thought that I would not like this book but ended up liking .

cvanslyk said...

I would be interested in what some of my students would think of this book and if they would understand it. I didn't really care for the way the monkey spoke to the mortal. I also didn't like all the slapping, punching, beating up and ethnic insults that were illustrated in this book. This really doesn't set a very good example of kindness, respect and dealing with issues in a non violent way. It seems like YA literature should teach a more positive approach in dealing with adversity. I agree with Amanda that hopefully readers would see the ridiculousness of these Asian stereotypes and ethnic insults. The first time I read this book, I had no idea what the author's purpose was in writing it. The second time it made a little more sense and I sort of liked it. Maybe with a third reading, I would be able to see the merit in this reading.

Rascalii said...

Testing

Rascalii said...

This is the first time that I, too, have read a graphic novel.I can easily understand why it is a popular form. Many of my studetns want to read them for our independent unit since they appear easy to read. but I have to admit, I had a very hard time following the idea.I felt like I was jumping from one thought to another without giving the previous idea any consideration. It does reflect our fast-paced society and our need for speed. It appeared amusing coupling this idea with some of the more traditional themes of the Chinese culture as expressed in the book. The cruelty is made to be funny and I think that the students would not take away anything positive from it. Winding through the story was like being stuck in the middle of a cartoon with no characters who would be willing to show me the way out!

Kim Seeley said...

This wasn't my type of book, but some of our students may enjoy it. I think that students with disabilities may have difficulty understanding what is going on. I think they may miss the main message of the book. I thought it was quite violent and that turned of me off. It was fun to try something different, but this isn't one of my top choices of novels that we have read so far.

rebeccakryger said...

This is the second graphic novel I've read, the first was Maus (which is a great story about the Holocaust), and I'm still not completely in love with the format. I think these are great for kids who struggle with long, complicated text, but this novel's plot could be challenging even for struggling readers. I knew that the stories would have to come together at some point, but I racked my brain through most of it to see how in the world the author was going to bring the strands together. It was clever the way the stories finally were integrated.
I think the girl/relationship issues Jin and Wei-chen face are ones that most teens face. Jin's baseless jealousy was really true to life (we see it with students and their relationships all the time), and I think teens could really get a lot out of how the whole situation evolves.
Some of the content I found was unnecessarily gross (did the monkey king have to pee on the five pillars...wouldn't his carving have been enough?), but I think some of the vulgarity was used to emphasize the stereotypes surrounding Asians, which really seemed to be his whole purpose. I thought the message about accepting who you are and trying to see others for who they are came through loud and clear by the end, and this is an important lesson for young adults to understand. Many teens, and really adults too, are so caught up on appearances that they judge others without a second thought.
I can't say that I loved the format, but the message was a strong, sound one. For young adults who are hesitant to read, the graphic novel format could be one that provides a bridge for them to try other, non-graphic novels.

Jim West said...

I was not at all looking forward to reading this book because I am just not into comics...that is how I saw this book. However, I did not find it to be as bad as I thought I would. I don't want to repeat everything everyone else has said, but my thought was that the book was and easy read, yet complicated. It was hard to follow the different stories throughout the book, and make sense of it all. I read it in many sittings and each time, I was lost and had to go back and review what I had read. This one just did not do it for me. I do see how a graphic novel could be a gateway for kids who struggle, to get them to read, it was just not my type of book. I am glad that I read it however, to understand exactly what a graphic novel really is. I hadn't known before.

Kathy J. said...

I found myself nodding in agreement to many of your comments. I really think that, as most of you said, using the exaggerated stereotypes really was the author's way of showing readers how ridiculous it is to stereotype. I'm glad we read it if only to experience the graphic novel format. Maybe we now need to tackle a manga book! :-) It still amazes me how kids who normally hate to read gobble up this format! We do have some classics in graphic format...Romeo and Juliet, Call of the Wild, etc. We even have a copy of the 9/11 Commission report in graphic format. Would any of you who teach special ed consider using this type of graphic novel in class? A conference I attended last year had a session on the graphic format for non-fiction books...which I think has real potential! It will be interesting to see how this all plays out.

Becky said...

Sorry for the late post, with the holidays and how busy its been coming back to work it just kept slipping my mind...

Although I dont think that I would have necessarily choosen this book on my own I am glad for the opportunity to read a graphic novel. It was a quick easy read which I think would be why it may appeal to students as a novel.

I do think however think that the stories jumped around a lot and it was hard to follow. I wonder if the students would be able to tie all the necessary pieces together or if some of the content would be lost due to the constant change from story to story.

I was annoyed by the story of Danny and his cousin. The obnoxious overexaggeration was just too much for me.

Overall,I think that the novel could have conveyed a similar message written as just one continuous story without all the breaks and jumping around.

Pam L said...

testing

Pam L said...

I never really enjoyed "the comics" when I was younger, so I probably would not have read a graphic novel on my own. I'm glad I did, although I'm still not a huge fan. I didn't struggle as much with the three plots coming together as much as I struggled with the humor and behavior of the characters. I agree with Rebecca. WHen I read the part about the monkey king peeing on the pillars, I read it again because I was sure I had mis-read it. I guess I really struggle with the "bathroom humor" and maybe that's because at the end of a day filled with freshmen, I need something else.

I might be interested in some of the non-fiction graphics. That might be a way to get our 15:1 kids interested in non-fiction.

I can see using this book to promote discussion about stereotypes but it would have to be something to be read at home because I can't see spending time on it in class. I guess I need to read another graphic novel...maybe one with more sophisticated humor (or is that not found in graphic novels?)...to give this format a fair shake. I'm afraid it just didn't grab me.
Pam

Kim Seeley said...

Kathy, I would love to take a look at the Romeo and Juliet comic version you mentioned. We are starting that after break...

Lisa said...

I didn't know what to expect from a grapic novel. It was a quick and easy read, which would be great for my 15:1 students. However, I did struggle a bit with the idea that the three stories would eventually be connected. Not my favorite, especially the Monkey King. In the end I was able to appreciate what the author was getting at. I think all students could relate to the stereotyping issues. By the end of the book I thought it pretty good. I would definitely read more graphic novels to find one that may interest many of our reluctant readers.