Study Guide

American Born Chinese Genre

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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…


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.

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