American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
American Born Chinese is a graphic novel that tells three separate stories that alternate back and forth and then cleverly combine with each other at the end to deliver the author’s message about what it is like to be an outsider.
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian is a journal kept by an American Indian boy recounting his adventures upon leaving the reservation to attend an all-white school.
The three stories in American Born Chinese are these:
1. Monkey King
He didn’t realize he was a monkey. He thought he was like everyone else until it was pointed out that he didn’t wear shoes. So, he changed everything about himself and challenged God, who buried him.
2. Jim Wang
A Chinese American boy betrays his only friend (another Asian boy) and becomes someone he isn’t in order to fit in with his white classmates.
He is a Chinese boy who embarrasses his white cousin by following him around.
In the Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian Junior, an American Indian boy, is poor and hungry like everyone else on the reservation, but he was also born with a condition which causes him to have seizures. At the reservation school he is picked on and beaten up by his classmates on a regular basis.
In order help him escape an unhappy future, a teacher recommends he attend an exclusive all-white school where he is treated better. Soon he doesn’t know where he belongs and questions his own identity.
The theme of both books is how everyone just wants to fit in somewhere. They explore the lengths that people will go to in order to make that happen. Will we change ourselves? Or will we search for a place that accepts who we are?
Both books are good, though different formats are used. The graphic novel American Born Chinese is a quick read and very entertaining, but you do have to deduce what each narrative is telling you by yourself. The moral to the story is not spelled out for you as it would be in a fable, but is left for you to determine. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian is a longer read, but more engaging. You feel empathy for the characters and when the book is finished, you wonder what becomes of Arnold. This, to me, is a sign that Sherman Alexie’s book is the better of the two.
To find out more on Gene Luen Yang go to http://geneyang.com/ and for Sherman Alexie go to http://www.poetryfoundation.org/bio/sherman-alexie . Both authors have other books you can check at any Chesapeake Public Library.