This acclaimed graphic novel by Gene Luen Yang tells three interlocking stories. There’s the mythic tale of the Monkey King, who spends his days studying Kung Fu but who cannot escape his monkey-ness. There’s Jin Wang, the young Chinese-American boy struggling to fit in. And there’s “Everyone Ruvs Chin-Kee,” a sitcom-style story of American teenager Danny and his extreme embarrassment at the arrival of his cousin Chin-Kee, a walking Chinese stereotype.
Although this book has been read and admired by many and talked about a lot, I’ve managed to avoid most of the talk about it and only pick up on the admiration. What I told you in the paragraph above is just about all I knew going in, and that was a good thing. There are a few aspects of the book that I think are most effective if you go in without knowing they are coming, so I won’t say more.
I will say that I enjoyed the book quite a lot. All three storylines had their compelling moments, and even the parts that made me uncomfortable had a purpose. Including a character like Chin-Kee is a risky move, but I think Yang pulls it off. Jin’s story is, for the most part, a typical coming-of-age story, with the added element of identity acceptance. The story that I liked more than I expected was that of the Monkey King. There were some compelling spiritual elements there that I appreciated a great deal, even if the story itself was rather crude at times. The crudity fit the Money King’s character.
But it’s in combination that the stories really work. Together, they offer a clever spin on the topics of ethnicity and self-acceptance. If you haven’t read it already (and I suspect most of you have), do yourself a favor a give it a try. I read it in less than an hour, so we’re not talking major time commitment here. Even if you don’t love it, I don’t think you’ll regret the time spent with it.