Sunday, March 25, 2007

American Born Chinese

by Gene Luen Yang

It's the first graphic novel to win the Printz Award. While it's certainly worthy, I can't help feeling that the format is what put it over the top, that the librarian judges wanted to seem progressive and hip. (The immigration/diversity theme can't have hurt either.) That said, I don't think the story would work very well without the pictures.

Myth, reality, and fantasy converge from three separate storylines that turn out to be threads of the same narrative. Although the conclusion is a tad abrupt, it's satisfying as well as surprising, and it combines the three elements without seeming forced or unreal — despite the essential unreality of two of the stories. There are some obvious lessons about cultural and personal identity, but it manages not to be too preachy, which might actually be a function of the obviousness. The lesson is explicit, so it doesn't have to be dwelled upon or reiterated.

As far as graphic novels go, this one's easy to read. It uses a straightforward square-panel design, and the illustrations are clean and simple with bright, engaging colors. I tore through it in about an hour.

The format, the humor, and the brevity make this book a good recommendation for "reluctant readers," but I can't help feeling a little disappointed that an award winner doesn't demand a bit more of the reader.

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