Thursday, September 20, 2012

Staff Picks

Whether you are a graphic novel enthusiast or have never picked one up, here is a book that will grab you and hold on until the very end. The characters give a birds-eye view of dealing with the good, the bad, and the ugly of being a middle or high school student.

American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang

American Born Chinese is a wonderful full color graphic novel by Gene Luen Yang.  It is a National Book award finalist, Library Journal best book, and Printz award winner.  Author Yang weaves three fascinating stories that twist together only at the end.  The stories begin with the Chinese fable of the Monkey King.  Monkey King, a master of the arts of Kung-fu and adored by all his subjects, is the most powerful monkey on earth.  But he does not want to be a monkey.  He visits the gods and becomes infuriated when he is not let in to see them because he has no shoes.  Monkey King goes berserk and attacks all the gods.  When he goes home, he notices that his cave smells like monkey.  After some thought, he locks himself deep in the bowels of his royal chambers and studies Kung-fu as never before.  He learns the four disciplines of invulnerability and the four disciplines of bodily form.  Transforming into a giant version of himself, he visits the other kings, showing his anger and new skills.  When the other kings  finally ask Tze-Yo-Tzuh to help them, Tze-Yo-Tzuh visits Monkey King and tells him he must be true to his own form.  When Monkey King does not agree, he is buried for five hundred years under a mountain of rock.

Jin Wang moves into a new house and all he wants to do is fit in.  When he goes to school, he realizes he is the only Chinese-American student.  He has trouble making friends.  The other students make fun of his name, his accent and even what he brings for lunch.  Jin is lonely.  He finally meets another new student, Wei-chen, and they bond over a cool Transformer toy and over the next few months become friends.  But as Jin distances himself from his heritage, he meets an all-American girl who makes his heart sing.  Wei-chen finds a girlfriend who is also Chinese and Jin, Wei-chen, and Suzy endure taunts from the school bullies.  Jin thinks he can win the girl of his dreams if he turns himself into a carbon copy of everyone else.  But that does not go well and in his anger he loses his true friend Wei-chen.

Danny is a hot shot jock.  He has a girlfriend and cool friends, even though he has only been at his school for a year.  But then like clock work, his cousin Chin-kee comes to visit.  Chin-kee has every stereotypical bad trait that a Chinese boy could have.  He speaks funny, eats weird food, dresses in original Chinese clothing, and acts inappropriately around girls.  Chin-kee goes everywhere with Danny, even to his classes at school.  Soon most of Danny’s friends look at him the way they look at Chin-kee.  Chin-kee comes to visit Danny every year in the springtime.  Danny gets so embarrassed by his cousin that he has to transfer schools each year to find a way to start over and be one of the cool kids again.  This year Danny cannot stand it any longer and tries to make Chin-kee go away by beating him up.  But Chin-kee surprises Danny with his phenomenal Kung-Fu moves, and what happens next will bring all the stories together. 
To see how the Monkey King, Jin, and Danny end up, take home American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang today.

Denise Leeson
Youth Services Specialist