Study Guide

American Born Chinese Analysis

  • Tone

    Philosophical

    We could have chosen thoughtful to describe the overall tone of the book, but when you have a monk spitting out serious head-scratchers like "To find your true identity… within the will of Tze-Yo-Tzuh… that is the highest of all freedoms" (4.64), philosophical definitely makes more sense.

    Even the end of the book, with its focus on Jin's modern-day troubles, has—at its core—a major philosophical nugget. Right before Monkey leaves Jin, he tells him,

    "You know, Jin, I would have saved myself from five hundred years' imprisonment beneath a mountain of rock had I only realized how good it is to be a monkey." (9.82)

    All those words sound normal and make sense, but what does Monkey really mean? Does he mean that he's happy he's not a human, like Jin, because humans have it rougher? Or is he hinting to Jin that the answer to Jin's own question—"'So what am I supposed to do now?'" (9.79)—lies in appreciating his Chinese American self?

    Honestly, we can make arguments for either interpretation of Monkey's statement. And that's kind of the point, isn't it? Philosophical statements don't necessarily have one interpretation; their purpose is to make you think more deeply about your way of being. Which is pretty much what Yang gives us: a book that leaves us with the feeling that we ought to think deeply about how we treat ourselves and others.

  • Genre

    Young Adult Literature; Coming-of-Age; Folklore, Legend, and Mythology

    Young Adult Literature

    The book is about a Chinese American teenager in junior high school, and more than half of the book is set at school. Plus it deals with all the things young adult readers care about: fitting in, experiencing first love, and feeling insecure. Need more convincing? How about the fact that the book has won multiple young adult literature awards? Moving on…

    Coming-of-Age

    If you read the book with the idea that Jin is our main dude, then it's kind of impossible not to count the story as a coming-of-age book. Jin goes from an insecure, snarky, cowardly Asian American teenager to a guy who's thoughtful, humble, and remorseful by the end of the book. More than that, he knows that life can't be about his fantasies anymore because his fantasies stem from racial self-hatred. Moreover, his fantasies (like being white or dating Amelia Harris) can completely ruin other people's lives (namely Wei-Chen's). So even though Jin isn't a man exactly by the end of the book, he's definitely grown past typical boyhood.

    Folklore, Legend, and Mythology

    We're guessing this is obvious to you, but we'll go into it anyway because we don't like leaving any stone unturned. The story of the Monkey King comes from the Chinese epic novel Journey to the West (more on this in the "Shout-outs" section). That fact alone makes it a member of this illustrious genre, but what really clinches the book's place in this category is how Gene Yang uses the story of the Monkey King.

    He tweaks the original story and humanizes the Monkey King in a modern way (we're guessing epic novels don't usually have farting monkey kings), and just by making his changes to the story, Yang follows a long tradition of tweaking the story of the Monkey King.

    And that, friends, is the definition of folklore. Stories that are as classic and ancient as the Monkey King survive through time because people can transform these stories to fit their times. In this case, Yang brings the Monkey King down from the folkloric heavens into the 21st-century world of a Chinese American teenager.

  • What's Up With the Title?

    Every minority group has its code words. Think of the phrase American born Chinese (or ABC) as Chinese American code for kids born in America but of Chinese descent. "But wait!" you're thinking. "Shouldn't that be Chinese born American because you're Chinese, but born in America?"

    Yeah, well, no. And here's why. Putting American first emphasizes that the person is American, and that's really important to Chinese Americans because historically they've often been viewed as foreign—or Other—and therefore not American.

    Need an example of this in the book? Just take a look at Jin's anxiety about Wei-Chen when they first meet, and Danny's anxiety about Chin-Kee. The way Wei-chen and Chin-Kee look and sound clearly make them seem foreign (especially Chin-Kee, whose clothes look like they're from 1800s China).

    Or you can hear it straight from the horse's (okay, more like author's) mouth.

    Then there's the born Chinese part. Think of this part of the phrase as a sign of native pride—it's like saying (if you're Chinese American) that you'll always be genetically and racially Chinese, that your Chinese roots will always be there no matter what you do to yourself. You know, kind of like a brunette who dyes her hair blonde—sure she might be blonde on the outside, but once that dye job starts to fade, those roots have nowhere to hide.

    Another reason why CBA doesn't work? It's not ABC. Really—what good is an acronym if it isn't catchy? Plus, ABC reminds folks that Chinese American people know their ABCs, sometimes even better than they know Chinese.

  • What's Up With the Ending?

    We admit it: the ending is totally wild. Who could have predicted that Chin-Kee was actually the Monkey King? Or that Wei-Chen was the son of Monkey and also an emissary-in-training? But it all works and here's why: The ending is all about giving up fantasies and reclaiming what's real. Not clear on how a Monkey King and his shape-shifter son constitute what's real?

    Good point, but hear us out. Real in this book doesn't just mean the real world (whatever that means)—it also means facing one's nature and learning to love it. In Jin's case, that means he has to learn to love his Chinese self because his Chinese self is real.

    Which is why it's totally fitting that the Monkey King—a major folkloric Chinese hero who goes through the parallel experience of learning to love his monkey self—comes to Jin as his guide. What better bearer of Chinese culture than a popular icon of Chinese literature?

    Because of the Monkey King, Jin abandons his white Danny alter ego and regains the other real person in his life: Wei-Chen, the friend who loyally supported him despite all of Jin's issues. It also makes complete sense that Wei-Chen, who's as Chinese as they come, is the one to introduce Danny to real, contemporary Chinese American culture. Forget the Chin-Kees of the world—they're fantasies too, and bad ones to boot.

    What does Wei-Chen want to talk about? The qualities of a good pearl milk tea. Now that's real, 21st-century, Chinese American culture. And that's what he has to offer to the transformed Jin.

    What do we have at the end then? The perfect Chinese American bromance.

  • Setting

    Here's the deal: you've got three different stories. And that means that you've got (at minimum) three different locations. Since the stories eventually interconnect, the locations eventually all come together too, but before that happens, you're going to have deal with the bumpy leaps in time and place from chapter to chapter.

    But hey, that's where we—your handy Shmoop team—come in. So fasten your seatbelts and let's get started.

    Macro: A Mythological Chinese Kingdom, Ancient Times

    You've got the heavens, which seem like one big party with a fruit-flower mountain full of monkeys, and an earth on which demons roam freely. Sounds pretty detached from our contemporary real world right?

    Not necessarily. Why? The way the characters speak and act with each other is completely in line with real world behavior The Monkey King farts in a demon's face as part of a kung-fu move (7.84) while gods come on to goddesses with off-color references like, "'Your peaches are looking especially plump today, my dear!'" (1.1). (We know—groan.) In other words, though they're hanging out in the heavens, they're acting like mere mortals all the time.

    These things aren't what you expect in this mythical kingdom, so the setting acts almost like a contrasting foil to these characters, who speak and act like everyday Americans.

    Another way to think about it? In Jin's storyline, dominant American culture and whiteness are elevated to a sort of heavenly/god-like status, but before we even encounter Jin we're set up with a solid reminder that those on top socially might not be as wonderful as they seem.

    Macro: A late-20th Century American Suburb

    You go from a small apartment in San Francisco Chinatown to a brand new house in the (white) suburbs: what do you think is going to happen? If you're Chinese American Jin, you can forget about fitting in and enjoying your new house because your life is all about feeling like a foreigner in your own country now.

    Why else is Jin's move important? Call it the start of a trend that began in the 1970s and 1980s: the Asian move to the suburbs. These days, that trend has completely altered the landscape of major suburbs in America. But hey, we're not the experts. Check out what the New York Times has to say about that trend.

    Micro: A Junior High School

    Ah junior high. What could possibly go right when you're thirteen and awkward? Not to mention, if you're Jin, you stick out like a sore Asian thumb in a sea of white.

    In fact, think of Jin's school as a reflection of how narrow Jin's larger suburban environment can be. There are only three Asian people; everyone else is another race. In order for Jin to grow up and feel at peace with his Chineseness, he also needs to grow out… which is maybe why the last scene of the book takes place—not at a majority-white school—but at a Chinese bakery/café (9.94-9.125).

    Micro: A TV Show

    Okay, so this isn't exactly a physical setting since it's kind of a fantasy that's occurring—just possibly—in Jin's head. It's also important to know that Chin-Kee isn't a real character in Jin's world exactly; he's a composite of a bunch of stereotypes that maybe could only ever exist on an American TV sitcom.

    Why is this sitcom setting important? It forces us to realize that Chin-Kee and what he represents—all those Asian stereotypes—aren't really what people (especially Asians) are like in the real world, and that these stereotypes persist because we are so affected by our popular culture.

  • Tough-o-Meter

    (3) Base Camp

    "All right," you're thinking. "Why isn't this book rated at Sea Level (1-2)? Isn't it a comic book? How hard can that be?"

    Okay, so we'll give you the fact that this book definitely isn't a Ulysses, and it may not even be an Of Mice and Men. Graphic novels can be deceptively simple though. To read this book, you've got to be really sensitive to the details of each drawing, and you also have to be able to imagine what Yang leaves out between the frames of each drawing. It takes reading between the lines to a whole new level.

    Then there's the whole multiple-narrative thing. One narrative might be easy, but three narratives? That starts to get complicated. Plus there's the whole Chinese-cultural-background-knowledge thing. Like, what is the actual story of the Monkey King? Yang doesn't tell you because he's all about taking the folk tale and changing it for his purposes, but you still need to know the real story because Yang assumes that knowledge.

    And then there's the whole Jin-Danny-Chin-Kee storyline. You think you're reading a realist story, but then Yang throws some seriously fantastical stuff at you. Why does he do that? Just another one of those tough questions you'll have to contend with while you're reading this "easy" book.

  • Writing Style

    Dialogical; Concise; Understated

    These three words really only work together. Why? Because the book is a graphic novel and dialogue takes up the majority of the writing. And when we're not reading dialogue, we're hearing from a concise and understated voiceover narrator who, under the limitations of space, really can't have that many words in any given frame.

    But just because space becomes a practical issue doesn't mean there isn't a larger meaning to these writing styles. Ask your English teacher: there's always a larger meaning. In this case, the dialogical and concise style work with Yang's pictures to create gaps in understanding that you—lucky you—get to fill in with your inferences.

    Take the last four pages of the book for example: Jin and Wei-Chen are at a booth in a restaurant drinking pearl (or boba) milk tea. They don't say much to each other. In fact, out of the last twelve frames, five of the frames have no words at all (these pictures show Wei-Chen considering Jin's apology). The frames that do have dialogue don't have much dialogue (no more than a short sentence). Then Wei-Chen launches into a short critique of the terrible pearl milk tea at the restaurant, and he tells Jin that he'll take him to a better place in the future. To which Jin responds: "'That'd be cool'" (9.124).

    Yang doesn't tell you directly that the boys have made up, but you can figure it out because of the way the dialogue between the two builds from near silence to Wei-Chen's takedown of the pearl milk tea. The boys don't emote to each other. They talk to each other in the way that non-talkative people sometimes do: they leave important things unspoken, understated and assumed.

    What's the total effect? The picture. At the end, it's all about the picture. All those understated words lead to the final drawing—of Jin and Wei-Chen (seen from a distance), laughing it up inside the restaurant with no word bubbles or voiceovers (9.125). We can't think of a more fitting ending to a graphic novel.

    Drawing Style: Extreme, Realistic, Cartoonish

    Extreme

    This style really surfaces with the Monkey King chapters. Why? Because Monkey is an extreme personality. He can go from super-mellow (like when he's at home, chilling with his monkeys, at the beginning of the book) to super-violent (like when he decides to beat up a bunch of those racist deities who exclude him from the party in the heavens).

    Yang's drawing style matches Monkey's dramatic mood swings. So the beginning panels—when Monkey's confident and comfortable at home—show close-ups of flowers and fruit (1.3-1.4). Yang uses curved lines to give a sense of softness to Monkey and his kingdom, and the frames of the panels are regular squares or rectangles, all of which gives a feeling of peace and order.

    But when Monkey gets mad at the guard who bounces him from the party, Yang's drawings all of a sudden go berserk. Bodies fill and even exceed the panels, while sound effects are written out—"SMAK!" "KRASH!" (1.39-1.44). Monkey's face isn't cute and round anymore; now it's harsh, more angular. More importantly, the frames themselves are large and boldly irregular, like one frame got hacked in half by an axe (1.40-1.43).

    So think of Yang's drawing style as a mirror for Monkey's extreme character… something that Yang repeats with his other characters too…

    Realistic

    When we're in Jin's world, this is the style that rules his chapters. Not that this comic book necessarily looks realistic (everything is still a cartoon), but Jin's world is simply drawn.

    His suburban house is just a regular house (2.7); his car looks just like a regular car (2.1-2.2, 2.6-2.7); there aren't any crazy colors and stylized fonts. All of this tells us that Jin is just a simple kid living in the (more or less) real world.

    Nothing gets exaggerated except when dramatic moments occur like, for instance, when he kisses Suzy. Then, all of a sudden, the panels literally crackle with electricity and Yang uses those visual effects like those that appear during Monkey's violent scenes (8.108-8.110).

    But those visual effects don't last long, especially at the end of the book. At the end, when Jin becomes a humbled, more reflective version of himself, the panels calm down and reflect the calm emptiness of a suburb at night.

    Consider the part when Chin-Kee and Danny return to their real selves, and become the Monkey King and Jin. At this point, all you see are stars, the night sky, a building, and just Monkey and Jin in their original forms (9.46-9.47). There's nothing crazy or exciting, which is how it should be because Monkey and Jin are all about reveling in their ordinary, humble, real selves at the end.

    Cartoonish

    How do you draw a character like Chin-Kee, who's supposed to represent a bunch of ridiculous (and offensive) stereotypes of Chinese people? If you're Yang, the go-to strategy is to make Chin-Kee into a total caricature, to make him super-ridiculous, especially in contrast to Danny's super-typical, suburban, high school world.

    For example, when Chin-Kee first enters Danny's story, he doesn't even have to appear yet to turn Danny's face into an exaggerated mess. Danny goes from being simply drawn to comically anxious, with super-round eyes and huge, gritted teeth (3.10-3.13). It's like all of a sudden we've walked onto a TV-comedy set.

    Then when Chin-Kee actually does appear, he fills up an entire panel and page, dwarfing Danny's father in the background, who by the way happens to be hidden by gigantic Chinese take-out boxes doubling as Chin-Kee's luggage (3.17).

    Add to that a huge, bold, upper-case "HARRO AMELLICA!" in a speech bubble coming from Chin-Kee's giant, buck-tooth grin, and you've got the sense of a three-ring circus, which just about sums up Chin-Kee's effect on Danny's life.

    Why do this? Why make Chin-Kee so exaggerated? Think of it this way: the more exaggerated Chin-Kee is, the more unbelievable a character he becomes. Which is kind of the point of Chin-Kee and the stereotypes he embodies: they aren't even close to being real. They are the fantastical products of an overheated, paranoid, Western view of Chinese people. And that's an idea we're guessing Yang really doesn't want you to miss while you read his book.

  • The Monkey King

    Okay, we know—you're thinking, "Wait… isn't the Monkey King a character? What's he doing hanging out with the symbols?" But you see, in this book the major characters can serve as symbols and allegories too—the Monkey King is a good example of this double-duty work.

    Think of the Monkey King's story as an allegorical tale of transformation. He embodies transformation—literally. By chapter two, he's mastered the "Four Major Disciplines of Bodily Form," like "Discipline One: Giant Form (this is a favorite of his), "Discipline Two: Miniature Form" (he's not so into this one), "Discipline Three: Hair-into-Clones" (we'd like to see this one ourselves; alas, he doesn't use it much), and lastly "Discipline Four: Shape Shift" (he uses this one when he turns into Chin-Kee) (4.9-4.12). That's a ton of transformation, right? Right.

    Plus, his personal transformation is the first transformation we see: he changes from a violent, angry, self-absorbed monkey who beats up eight different deities in chapter four alone (4.36-4.45) to someone who says "Master [Wong Lao-Tsai], let me help you to your feet" (7.98).

    Because of his journey, he's the perfect mentor for Jin. In fact, he basically ushers Jin through the same kind of transformation. Jin goes from self-absorbed, selfish, angry teen—most evident when he says to Wei-Chen, "'Maybe I just don't think you're right for [Suzy], all right? Maybe I don't think you're worthy of her. Maybe I think she can do better than an F.O.B. like you'" (8.123)—to a humbled, reflective guy who's willing to wait a month at a Chinese bakery/café in order to see Wei-Chen and apologize to him (9.103, 9.117).

    How does Monkey get Jin to become a better guy? Monkey guides Jin by first transforming into Chin-Kee and terrorizing Jin's fantasy self, Danny, ultimately compelling Jin to be comfortable with his Chinese self. For more on this hop on over to the "Characters" section.

    You know what they say: Change is the only constant. Let that be your major takeaway when you see Monkey.

  • Chin-Kee

    Chin-Kee is clearly a stereotype, or several stereotypes rolled into one character. He's sinister Fu Manchu who wants "'pletty Amellican girl wiff bountiful Amellican bosom'" (3.23); the "model minority" who answers all of the teachers' questions correctly in Danny's classes (6.6-6.19); the geeky, totally oblivious Asian, who doesn't know what a bad singer he is (9.5); and the kung-fu master who's able to do moves like "Spicy Szechuan Dragon," "Mongorian Foot in Face" and "Happy Famiry Head Bonk" (9.22-9.38).

    Because all of these things are clearly not what mainstream (white) America imagines itself to be, Chin-Kee is more than just a bunch of stereotypes—he represents the fear of those stereotypes. Specifically, Danny's (or really, Jin's) fear of appearing non-white and non-American.

    Wondering how we know this? Just take a look at Danny's facial expressions: they range from cowering embarrassment (6.7) to bug-eyed horror (9.5) whenever he's around Chin-Kee. Moreover, he tries to hide Chin-Kee by bringing him to school late and telling him to "'Stay quiet'" (6.2-6.4), and by dragging him away during Chin-Kee's embarrassing performance of Ricky Martin's "She Bangs" in the library (9.6). Chin-Kee as his "chinky" self forces Danny to constantly confront the fear of being labeled a "chink."

    So think of Chin-Kee this way: he symbolizes the threat of stereotypes and the thing that Danny/Jin needs to overcome.

  • Wei-Chen vs. Jin

    For this one we're going straight to the author, who said:

    In my [junior high] class were two groups of Asian boys, two cliques. The one I was a part of, [we] were either born in the states or came when we were really young, and we felt more comfortable speaking in English than in our native tongue. And then this other group came when they were much older, and they usually spoke in Chinese or Korean. I remember very distinctly feeling like we wanted people to know that we were two distinct groups.(Source)

    Sound familiar? In American Born Chinese, we see both groups represented by Jin and Wei-Chen. For his part, Wei-Chen represents the full-on "F.O.B." Asian, new to America with his high-water sweatpants, "Robot Happy" t-shirt, glasses, and heavily accented, broken English (2.62). Wei-Chen is clearly foreign and different from all the American boys who run around in non-descript tees and jeans.

    Then there's the Asian American boy, born and raised in America, whom Jin represents. He's the boy who speaks with your typical American accent, the one who knows all the pop culture phrases like "word to your mother" and "don't have a cow, man" (5.72) and who dresses like the other American guys—a plain t-shirt and jeans (2.29).

    How else are the two different? Jin's the American boy who's fixated on the difference between himself and Wei-Chen (like our dear author was with the other group of Asian boys at his school), while Wei-Chen is all about how similar they are. After Wei-Chen tells Jin "'We're alike. We're brothers […] We're blood'" (8.118-8.119), Jin (nastily) says, "'You've got to be kidding. You and I are not alike. We're nothing alike'" (8.120-8.121).

    This isn't the first time that Jin tries to distance himself from Wei-Chen. For example, on Wei-Chen's first day at school, Jin refuses to speak in Chinese with him, telling Wei-Chen "'You're in America. Speak English'" (2.62). Moreover, he refuses to be Wei-Chen's friend and says, "'I have enough friends'" (2.65-2.66).

    With all of this insistence on difference in mind, Jin learning to become a true friend of Wei-Chen is about something bigger than just a typical friendship between boys. It's also a fantasy of a united Chinese brotherhood: two types of Chinese boys, who—despite their different cultural and national backgrounds—can combat the overwhelming desire to be "white"/mainstream Americans and revel instead in their Chineseness.

    That's why the aww moments of Jin's and Wei-Chen's friendship typically occur over Chinese/Taiwanese stuff: Wei-Chen's toy robot/monkey (2.71-2.75) and pearl milk tea at a Chinese bakery/café (9.125).

  • Transformers

    It's a toy… No, wait… It's a symbol. Transformers—more than meets the eye.

    These aren't just cool toys from the 1980s—nope, they also symbolize Jin's most basic desire: to transform into something different than what he is in real life (a typical Chinese American kid). When he's a little kid at the Chinese herbalist's shop, this desire is still kind of unformed. He just knows that he "want[s] to be a Transformer! [….] A robot in disguise [….] More than meets the eye!'" (2.20-2.22)—and we, as readers, get a subtle hint at what's to come.

    As Jin grows older, the desire to transform becomes a lot more serious: it's a way for him to escape his life as an Asian "Other" and become white. He gets to live out that wish briefly when he becomes Danny, the white high schooler on the verge of breaking into the in crowd.

    Of course, that transformation doesn't last because it's not the kind of transformation that's real—it's a fantasy and a dangerous one at that. For example, Jin as Danny ends up beating his "chinky" cousin "Chin-Kee" so badly that he pops Chin-Kee's head off (9.39-9.40). To try and maintain the fantasy of whiteness, Danny/Jin literally kills off Chin-Kee.

    We don't know about you, but generally speaking, killing off your blood relative (or anyone for that matter) really isn't cool. It's a good thing Chin-Kee isn't real either, since he's just Monkey in disguise.

    What is real, as far as transformations go, is the kind of change Jin undergoes when Monkey confronts him with the damages Jin's done to Wei-Chen. Jin matures and waits patiently for a month to meet Wei-Chen in order to apologize for breaking their friendship (9.103, 9.117).

    Wei-Chen also has a thing for transformation, as symbolized by his totally cool robot-monkey. But in Wei-Chen's case, the transforming robot-monkey toy is a reminder of his true self (a monkey) and his duty to his dad the Monkey King and Tze-Yo-Tzuh to remain virtuous (2.74-2.78).

    For Wei-Chen to honor his transforming robot-monkey, he's supposed to stay the same and just be sweet, kind, honest Wei-Chen. Which is what he becomes again, after a brief stint as a Chinese gangster (9.109-9.122).

    So what's the larger point? Transformers may be more than meets the eye, but they can't hold a candle to becoming comfortable with your original self. Of course, the only way the boys learn that is to go through the magic of transformation first.

  • Narrator Point of View

    Third Person (Objective) and First Person (Central Narrator)

    Third Person (Objective)

    American Born Chinese is kind of like watching a movie or a TV series—at least, for two-thirds of it. (We'll get to the other third shortly.) Both the story lines for the Monkey King and for Danny come from a distant narrator who's simultaneously above the fray and yet also able to give you close-up views of the characters.

    The Monkey King

    How? Consider it the nature of a graphic novel. On one hand, you've got—in the Monkey King sections—an actual narrator giving you voice-overs of what's going on around the Monkey King or in his head. But even though the narrator can tell you that the Monkey King "stayed awake for the rest of the night thinking of ways to get rid of [his monkey fur smell]" (1.47), the narrator doesn't judge. At least, not verbally.

    The narrator lets the pictures do the talking. For example, when Tze-Yo-Tzuh tells Monkey to stop being such a fool, the picture shows a close-up of Monkey dumbly considering Tze-Yo-Tzuh's words. You might think that because Monkey seems properly awed by Tze-Yo-Tzuh's powers, he'll totally follow what Tze-Yo-Tzuh asks him to do. But no cigar. The next picture shows the exact same close-up, only Monkey's face is angry and determined, both of which highlight his stubborness as he states: "'I don't care who you say you are, old man. I can still take you'" (4.83).

    What an idiot, right? But the narrator doesn't tell you that. It's the next picture—of a distant Tze-Yo-Tzuh sighing (4.84) that confirms the idea that Monkey is completely immature. There's no judge-y voice telling you how to think or feel, just the silent zooms in and out of the picture frames that guide you to these general conclusions about Monkey's character. Neat, huh?

    Danny and Chin-Kee

    In Danny's story, the narrator is even more objective because the narrator doesn't even bother to speak. In fact, you might say that there isn't a narrator at all; it's just the view given to you by each picture. That's why Danny's storyline becomes all about the action and dialogue in each frame.

    Each chapter opens with a picture of the setting: Danny's house, Oliphant High, the library. From there, the pictures lead us right into a scene and the scene just unrolls before our eyes—like a TV screen. Just like the Monkey King parts, these scenes don't carry a judge-y feeling exactly because there isn't anyone telling us how to feel and think. In fact, our view of the picture tends to be at mid-distance: the picture doesn't zoom in or out much, and mostly just stays in the middle letting you see everything unfold.

    Case in point: When Danny walks into the library and sees Chin-Kee performing "She Bangs" on the table, we get to see both Chin-Kee dancing and singing gleefully while Danny's face, still in the frame, shows his bugged-out eyes and gritted teeth (9.5). We get why Danny cringes, but since both characters are in the frame, no perspective is favored exactly. You can't tell exactly who the narrator judges or favors, which invites us to grapple with the discomfort we may feel in response to both characters.

    The whole TV feel of Danny's story also makes it easier to see how Jin's transformation into Danny is kind of like an entrance into Jin's own personal lalaland.

    First Person (Central Narrator)

    And then there's Jin. How do we know that Jin is really our main guy for the whole book? Even though his story is squashed between the story of the Monkey King and Danny/Chin-Kee, his story is the only one told in the first person, from Jin's perspective. That means we get the whole deal—how he thinks, how he feels, what he does—all of which ultimately make Jin a sympathetic character.

    Plus the book ends with his story. It moves from the third person objective narration of Danny's story into Jin's first-person voice. This is most evident when Jin tells us how many days (over a month) he sat at 490 Bakery Cafe waiting for Wei-Chen to show up (9.103). He's letting us know how much he's changed and how committed he is to making amends for his misdeeds. And we feel it more because it's in the first-person, which makes it much easier for us to experience Jin's remorse and believe in his transformation.

    • Plot Analysis

      This might seem complicated, but it really isn't. Since there are three stories that eventually become one, we've got to give you three analyses, at least for the first half of the book. Kind of like three roads turning into one.

      Exposition

      No Monkeys Allowed

      Monkey hears a party going on in the heavens, crashes it, and then finds out he's a monkey in a world full of stuck-up gods and goddesses who don't want him around. So you've got the protagonist  (Monkey, even if he kind of acts like an arrogant jerk) and the villain (all those other beings who are even more arrogant and jerk-like than Monkey) meeting, only to find out that the real villain for Monkey is his stinky monkey self.

      The Typical (Chinese) American Boy

      Jin's this typical Chinese American junior high kid, only he's in a majority-white school and his only friend is a guy, Wei-Chen, who's more "Chinese-y" than he is. Life isn't easy for him, especially when it comes to getting a girlfriend, and particularly the popular (white) Amelia. You might wonder why this isn't part of the Rising Action. In another book, it might be, but the thing is, there are way meatier things up ahead. Think of this part of the plot as the set-up: you've got our main guy Jin, his loyal sidekick Wei-Chen, a setting, a goal (Amelia), and—most importantly—the potential for conflict. You want the really juicy stuff? Read on…

      The Wannabe All-American White Boy

      Danny's a blonde high school teenager who's trying to become a jock. Everything's going great, and he even (kind of) has a girl/friend. Life is pretty good. Which is how you know it's the exposition because everything starts out looking okay. Danny seems more or less happy—he's got two big goals (fitting in and dating Melanie) and he's getting there. So what next? Think downward spiral. But that's for the other parts of this analysis…

      Rising Action

      Who's Your Daddy?

      The Monkey King goes around beating all those "superior" beings up with his master kung fu skills until he ends up confronting the head honcho, Tze-Yo-Tzuh himself (think God, only Chinese), who buries him under a pile of rock for five hundred years. You can't get more conflict than Monkey bashing others up in order to make himself feel more powerful, and you also can't get a greater complication than having to face the big guy up in the sky and finding out that you're pretty much powerless against him.

      Boy Gets Girl, Boy Loses Girl

      Jin gets past his insecurities and goes out on a great date with Amelia, only to have Greg tell him to stay away from Amelia. Oh the frustration. Greg basically acts like the major obstacle in Jin's path toward total happiness—he makes Jin completely insecure about his masculinity and about his ability to fit into a relationship with Amelia. So how does Jin overcome this complication? Read on…

      Here Comes Trouble…

      And do we mean trouble: Danny's super-stereotyped Chinese cousin visits and ruins (at least in Danny's eyes) Danny's chance at becoming one of the popular kids at Oliphant High. How? Chin-Kee is the major complication in Danny's life because he follows Danny to school and completely overshadows Danny in a totally embarrassing (for Danny) way.

      Climax

      And Then Came a Monk…

      … who gets Monkey to free himself from the pile of rocks. How? By doing something totally selfless—saving Wong Lai-Tsao from a bunch of demons. Why is this the climax for Monkey's story? It's the climax because once he meets Wong Lai-Tsao, he totally transforms into a better, wiser, kinder Monkey. There's no better turning point than that.

      Boy Screws Over Best Friend and Becomes… White?

      Jin can't deal with the fact that he listened to Greg and avoided Amelia, so he goes and does the worst thing possible: he kisses Wei-Chen's girlfriend Suzy Nakamura. So yeah—that's pretty bad, right? Okay, but get this: then Jin wakes up from a dream and magically becomes a white boy named… Danny. Yep—there's probably no turning back from kissing your best friend's girlfriend, but there's definitely no turning back once you've changed your entire race. That's pretty irreversible action… which is what makes it the climax.

      Chin-Kee, a.k.a. the Monkey King

      How would you like it if your cousin got on a table at school and started singing Ricky Martin's "She Bangs," William Hung-style? (Who's William Hung? Check out our "Shout-outs" section.) You probably wouldn't, so you can understand why this might be the straw that breaks the camel's (or Danny's) back, right? And why, right after that, he beats Chin-Kee up so badly that he knocks off Chin-Kee's head.

      All of that might be the climax in any other book, but what's really the climax here is how Monkey's head pops up where Chin-Kee's head was. That's not just a crisis—it's a major turning point. How could it not be? One character from one story just became another character from another story—nothing can be the same after this.

      Falling Action

      It All Comes Together

      Danny, who's actually Jin, finds out that Chin-Kee is actually the Monkey King, who's actually Wei-Chen's father come to serve as a guide, first to his son, and now to Jin because it was Jin who turned his son into a jaded emissary of Tze-Yo-Tzuh. Got all that? This part is when everything comes together… and we mean everything. This is where you find out—quickly (hence: falling action)—how everyone connects to each other. It's a whole lot of craziness captured in just a few pages.

      Resolution

      The Bromance Returns

      Jin finally returns to his rightful body and follows Monkey's tip: he finds Wei-Chen and they make up. We don't know what happens to the girls in their lives, but that's not the point anyway. The end is all about the boys and how they resolve, not just their fight, but also their feelings about being Chinese American boys.