Sunday, April 23, 2017

Book Review: American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang and Anya's Ghost by Vera Brosgol

These are two middle grade-YA graphic novels about not feeling American and not fitting in.

American Born Chinese was awesome. Initially I was confused as there are 3 storylines that at first, really seem like they're not going to come together. Heck, they're in three different styles. One tells the straightforward story of our main character, a Chinese-American boy, Jin, in a new grade school, trying desperately to fit in and make friends. Then there's the story of the Monkey God. Finally, there's the story of Danny, an American boy, whose Chinese-caricature of a cousin comes to visit and humiliates him at every turn. In the end, they do in fact all come together and make sense and make the main story line (Jin) much richer, although one is a folktale and one is a farce/fantasy. I can see why this book has won so many awards and why it's so popular. I made a big impact on me and I want to read Yang's other books.

I didn't know anything going into Anya's Ghost and I was a little surprised to find it was another story of an outsider perspective (Anya emigrated from Russia when she was little). Anya has been fitting in, mostly, although she's embarrassed by her mother and the food she cooks and she's impatient with her mother not understanding that Anya's style (despite her school uniform) is very American and that she's purposeful in her short skirts and thigh-high tights. Then one day Anya's in the woods and she falls into a deep hole. Down there, she meets a ghost, Emily, who keeps Anya's hopes up in the two days it takes before she manages her way out. Emily comes with Anya, and is her new secret friend, who can help Anya on tests and find out what cute boys are saying. Then, things start to take a scary twist... and I won't tell you any more!

I think graphic novels are wonderful for school-age kids, partly because it's just wonderful to have the combination of words AND picture to enrich the storytelling. But also because some people are just naturally much more visual than textual, and so these books not only don't leave them out, but for once they might even have an edge. They're an especially effective format for books about different races/cultures because when you're just reading words on a page, it's possible to forget the main character is from another country or looks different from you. That's much harder to forget with constant visual clues. Both excellent books, highly recommend.

This review is a part of Kid Konnection, hosted by Booking Mama, a collection of children's book-related posts over the weekend.

I checked both of these books out of the library.

Both of these books are published by Macmillan, my employer.

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