American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang

Graphic Novels, Quick Reads


Yang, G.L. (2006). American Born Chinese. New York, NY: First Second. ISBN 9781596431522

Plot Summary

Gene Luen Yang tells three different stories in this graphic novel. One of Jin Wang, a boy who just wants to fit in and not be picked on because of his ethnicity. The second tale is of the Monkey King and his quest to get into heaven and be equals with the gods. The third story is of Chin-Kee, a poster child for the negative Chinese stereotype who embarrasses his caucasian cousin, Danny every time he comes to visit. These three stories are seemingly unrelated, but Yang twists them together in a way that will blow the reader away.

Critical Analysis

This book displays nothing but strengths from Yang. His illustrations are superb and filled with action, just like the story lines in his book. Yang makes each character vivid and distinctive so the reader has no trouble identifying each one. There is enough text to fill in the gaps and move the story along, but not too much to bog the reader down. The drawings are large enough to allow for detail and there are only a few per page so the reader does not get overwhelmed with cluttered pages. Perhaps the best part about this book is the way Yang weaves the stories together in the end. He catches the reader completely off-guard with the unexpected twists. In American Born Chinese, Yang takes a fun format and teaches a powerful lesson about being ok with who you are and that it is ok to need help from other people. Yang does such a good job teaching this lesson that teens might not realize at first that they have just learned something so significant from a graphic novel!

Yang’s graphic novel is listed as 10-12 grade and recommended for those grades and adult collections by professional reviewers. This book contains topics that are suited to older teens and young adults and, despite what some might think due to the nature of the format, there are actually some words in the book that are fitting for a higher reading level.

Teens will love this book mainly because of the graphic novel format. It is a quick, fairly easy read with good illustrations and action-packed pages. The relationship issues in the book will also appeal to teens and allow them to identify with the book.

American Born Chinese is a Printz Award winner, a National Book Award finalist, and has won many other awards. This book was published in 2006 and has remained popular since that time. It will continue to remain popular in the future as well because of its high quality illustrations, the rich cultural heritage of the story, and the masterful intertwining of the three stories.


In the book, the three main characters of the three storylines all want to be someone different and take on a different form. Working with the art teacher to teach basic drawing techniques, have students draw themselves in the form they would want to take. Then students can partner up and share their drawings while discussing the advantages and disadvantages to taking on this form. Students can also discuss with each other reasons why they think their partner should be happy with the way they are.

Put students into groups and have them pick one scene from the book to perform. The group will write a script, each member will have a part, and there will be a director. Each group will perform their play for the class, or they may film and produce a short video to present to the class.

Related Resources

How to make webcomics

Kurtz, S. (2008). How to make webcomics. Berkeley, CA: Image Comics. ISBN 9781582408705

This book is an instructional manual type book on how to make comic strips and graphic novels to post online. The summary of the book says that it is hard to get published in this area and that posting on the web can help you gain some traction with publishers. This is a good book to pair with American Born Chinese because some students may want to try their hand at the form after reading this title.

Boxers and Saints

Yang, G.L. and Pien, L. (2013). Boxers. New York, NY: First Second. ISBN 9781596433595

Yang, G.L. and Pien, L. (2013). Saints. New York, NY: First Second. ISBN 9781596436893

This is another tale about Chinese culture and folklore by the same author as American Born Chinese. Yang tells the story in two volumes this time, using each volume to tell the same story from a different point of view. These two books are good for young adults who want to read more about Chinese culture and history after reading American Born Chinese..

Published Review

Karp, J. (2006, September 1). [Review of the book American Born Chinese]. Booklist. Available online from:

Cover Picture Citation

Yang, G. (2006). Cover of American Born Chinese. Retrieved from