Gene Luen Yang’s “American Born Chinese”

August 6, 2012

See the full post for details (and lots of really interesting links).

I still think the best way to buy books is to go to a good book store and scan the shelves, take a book down, savor the cover art (which is supposed to suck you in), and read a little bit of the book itself (the opening pages, something in the middle, anything to give you an idea of whether you can enjoy the author's voice).

That's how I happened to pick up American Born Chinese a graphic novel by Gene Luen Yang. Yang has crafted a wonderfully layered and interwoven tale which captures the experience of being different in U.S. culture. There are many moments that shine, but my favorite comes early in the book when the Transformer-obsessed hero confesses to the herbalist's wife that he wants to grow up to be a Transformer (yes, a truck that turns into a robot, that kind of Transformer). He's disheartened because his mom has told him this is silly.

"I'm going to let you in on a secret little friend: It's easy to become anything you wish so long as you're willing to forfeit your soul." The herbalist's wife tells him. (I wish Yang would write an entire book about the Herbalist's Wife!)

The three panels delivering this message are stunning. They create a suspended time into which the full impact of her statement can settle into your brain. (That's the way graphic novels should work, words and pictures together amplfying each other.)

I was hooked. I read the rest of the book in one gulp, rereading it again right away. This is a truly lovely book with the simplicity and elegance typically only found in long-told fables. It is also a beautifully produced book. You can find a preview of American Born Chinese on Yang's website. (This Issuu preview actually contains the page that got me hooked, page 29. But start at the beginning of the preview to view it in context.)

Besides recommending this book I suggest that you take a look through Yang's website to learn more about him and his work (it seems that in 2012 he was at Hamline University in the children's literature writing program—I can't see if that is going to be a long-term or repeated thing but Twin Cities folk might want to look into this.)

Yang's blog contains several posts which show his work in progress from thumbnail to developed inked sketch with animated gifs. They are really fun to look at. Here's one on an illustration from a comic about Joan of Arc.

This busy artist-author is a math teacher who has also used comics for educational purposes, as you can discover on his other websites listed here. You'll also find previews of some of his other books like Prime Baby on his website.

Go start getting acquainted with Gene Luen Yang's work now.

    • j.long
    • August 9, 2012

    Thanks for the introduction to Gene Luen Yang. I enjoy his work and have linked to his blog. Thanks, Roz.

  1. Reply

    Jackie, I’m so glad you enjoyed this post!

    • Julana
    • May 4, 2014

    I got to hear him speak a few weeks ago at the Festival of a Faith and Writing, on a keynote topic: “Is Art Selfish?” He is a very interesting speaker and a great person, and has certainly paid his dues in the field. Great stories.

  2. Reply

    I’ll have to keep my eyes open to see if he’s coming to talk somewhere close by. Thanks Julana.

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