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#ReadingWrite: American Born Chinese, by Gene Luen Yang.

We're doing something called the #ReadingWrite challenge at work. As per the head of strategy's email:

Training shouldn’t be all PowerPoint and Power Poses. 

Training can be you and a good book. 

Send me your request and we will buy you a book. 

It can be on anything you want. 

Fiction. Non-fiction. Pulp fiction. 

In exchange I would like you write a 100 word synopsis and perhaps swap with another strat. 

Instead of going for the new Romanov history I've been furtively consuming at every bookshop visit, I decided to embrace a growth mindset and went for a graphic novel called American Born Chinese.

I deliberately chose a graphic novel because I tend to be a snob about what constitutes "real" literature.

I ended up reading it three times: once for the story (quickly, on the train home), the second time to also savour the images, and then again to reabsorb.

The illustrations are gorgeous; they evoke East Asian woodcuts but also Herge, and manage to be stylized (and yet detailed) at the same time.
At it's most simplistic, the book's about how you should own who you are, and try be the best version of yourself.

In terms of storylines, this book has three: the legend of the Monkey King; the story of Jin Wang who has to deal with growing up Chinese-American in whitebread 'burbs; and the story of Chin-Kee, a Chinese stereotype who wreaks havoc in his teenaged American cousin's life. These come together in a predictable (though nonetheless narratively solid) way.

As someone who grew up between cultures (though as a third culture kid rather than as a child of immigrants), it made me reexamine how much I have relied on (and continue to use) code-switching and passing to make my life easier.

The 9-year-old also asked to read the book. “What did you like best?” “The monkey who pees on the pillar – and Chin-Kee! He’s so funny, especially how he confuses his Rs and Ls.” Which led to a discussion about why the author would willingly evoke racist stereotypes and the implications of that.

Would recommend to anyone who doesn't mind examining uncomfortable truths about social norms, how others' perception of a person shapes how they see themselves, and how "it's easy to become anything you wish - so long as you're willing to forfeit your soul" (p.29).


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