American Born Chinese

(Graphic novel; First Second, 2006)

Gene Luen Yang’s graphic novel American Born Chinese is full of alter egos, though not of the superhero variety: the powerful but dissatisfied Monkey King, who dares to transform himself into Great Sage Equal of Heaven but ends up imprisoned under a stone mountain; Chin-Kee, a sallow, bucktoothed sitcom stereotype; all-American Danny, who is not everything he seems to be; and curly-haired Jin, who achieves this hairstyle only with the help of a perm. These adopted public identities are alter egos of each character’s inner self, but they are also problematic alter egos of the Chinese-American experience. At first the characters seem to have little to do with one another; but at the book’s core, Yang spins a shared story of identity in which heroic redemption relies not on the preservation of one’s secret identity but on the revealing of one’s true hidden self.

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