Home > Graphic Novels, review > ‘American Born Chinese’: a graphic novel review

‘American Born Chinese’: a graphic novel review

I found American Born Chinese at my public library in an attempt to find some material to review (give me suggestions folks!). I had recently finished my review of Vietnamerica and was interested about reading another graphic novel by an Asian American. American Born Chinese focuses far more on the time spent in the United States and the experience of growing up.


The main theme of American Born Chinese is that of growing up understanding ethnic diversity, from the point of view of the ethnicity. I’m not sure if this is supposed to be autobiographical for Yang or not. The message of acceptance of this difference of ethnicity doesn’t come out as strongly as it could have been. The protagonist doesn’t learn anything really about his own culture that makes him special or unique, just that he’s different and that’s a-okay.

There are two other narratives that blend into the main narrative by the end of the work, but they don’t add all that much to work. While one of them concerns the Monkey King from Chinese legend (think of Dragon Ball), and is interesting in itself, the way it joins the main narrative isn’t that great. The last third of the narrative just begins to unravel anything good that was going initially. It finishes off weaker than it started.


When I first began to read the work my first thought was this was more aimed at those in late elementary or middle school based on the art. Of course the narrative was a little more mature, I just couldn’t shake the feeling that this wasn’t the most fleshed out art. Yang’s art is easily accessible, and his colors are warm and just as accessible as that of his drawing style. Of course this serves as a good use of complimentary technique. But Yang doesn’t change this up all that much, which could’ve done more for enhancing the narrative itself.

Final Opinion:

After reading Vietnamerica I was expecting another strong memoir story from American Born Chinese. What should have been a great work was just an okay read. The interesting narrative falls apart by the end and doesn’t really fix the structuring issues it had. The art, while quality, doesn’t add anything to the narrative itself. It seems like American Born Chinese was intended for a younger reading audience. And, well, if it wasn’t, it failed.

American Born Chinese  is owned by Gene Luen Yang. Yang wrote and drew the work. It is available from First Second.

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  1. November 15, 2011 at 10:19 pm

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