American Born Chinese tells three interwoven stories. Jin Wang is a Chinese-American who moves with his parents from Chinatown in San Francisco to a predominantly white neighborhood where he struggles to fit in with his new classmates while dealing with hidden feelings for a fellow student, Amelia. The Monkey King, a character drawn from a Chinese fable, strives to transcend his station as a monkey through mastery of Kung Fu and achieve equal footing with the deities after being denied entry to a dinner party in heaven. Chin-Kee, the embodiment of negative Asian-American stereotypes, visits his cousin Danny who has spent the last several years trying to escape Chin-Kee and the embarrassment of his annual visits. As these three story lines intersect they reach an unexpected and powerful conclusion.
Luen Yang deals with issues of stereotyping and identity as his characters strive to gain acceptance within the dominant culture. At issue is what the characters sacrifice to gain the acceptance they seek. The moral of the book is encapsulated in a quote from a monk who seeks the imprisoned Monkey King as a disciple, “To find your true identity…that is the highest of all freedoms.”
Review submitted by David Otten