My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Publisher: First Second Books
YA, graphic novel
Second-generation child to Chinese immigrants, Jin wants to fit in at school. He perms his hair to look more like the blond curly-haired boys in his class. While Jin’s story is playing out, another story told in the form of a horrible sitcom about white teenager Danny whose Chinese cousin Chin-Kee comes for a visit. Danny is embarrassed by the way Chin-Kee dresses, talks, eats, and acts. And a third story about The Monkey King from a Chinese folktale is being woven throughout.
In the end, the three tales come together, though I don’t want to go too much into this as it is so beautifully done in the book. Jin is discouraged from showing interest in a white girl in his class because he is Chinese. This sets off an extreme need for Jin to want to distance himself from his Chinese friends, his culture, and identity. It is revealed that Danny’s story is really how Jin sees himself after this encounter. He purposefully sabotages his relationships with his friends to push them away. It turns out that one of his friends was The Monkey King in human form come to Jin to help him be true to himself.
This was an uncomfortable read, but an important one. At times I was sickened by the extreme negative racial stereotypes portrayed by Chin-Kee which, I know, was the point. Now that Yang has been named by the Library of Congress as the Ambassador for Young People’s Literature, I felt like I finally needed to get around to reading this.