Study Guide

American Born Chinese Quotes

By Gene Luen Yang

  • Betrayal

    [2.66-2.69]

    Wei-Chen is the new kid at school, and what does Jin do? Reject him. Doesn't seem too cool to us, though his actions do bring up a question: What responsibility does a person of one race have to another person of the same race?

    [3.24-27]

    Chin-Kee visits Danny, and he immediately comes on to Melanie by making all sorts of lewd suggestions. Which, of course, totally horrifies and embarrasses Danny. Is embarrassing your cousin a form of betrayal? Or is it Danny's problem for disliking his own race?

    [4.1]

    All the monkeys are slipping off their trees in Monkey Kingdom. Why? Because the Monkey King, after getting bounced from the party in the heavens for not wearing shoes, is forcing his monkeys to wear shoes. Not great if you're a regular monkey just trying to eat some fruit off a tree, but that's what happens when you have social climbing, wannabe-god for your ruler.

    [6.3-6.40]

    Chin-Kee goes with Danny to school, which basically means that Danny has to put up with all sorts of embarrassing behavior, like Chin-Kee acting like a know-it-all in every class or Chin-Kee peeing into Steve the jock's Coke. But why is Chin-Kee really embarrassing? It's the way he looks in his Fu Manchu outfit, with his buckteeth and slanted eyes. It's also the way he sounds—Chinese. Chin-Kee's body is already a form of betrayal to Danny because Chin-Kee shows where Danny's roots are. That said, what loyalties is Danny supposed to have toward a cousin like Chin-Kee?

    [6.85-92]

    Okay this part sort of puzzles us. Steve the jock is trying to reassure Danny that Oliphant High isn't like other high schools and that people are actually really nice. Then he offers to buy Danny a Coke (a nice gesture, right?), but instead of taking Steve up on the offer, Danny gets all defensive and says to Steve "'What, so I can pee in it?'" Then he walks off while Steve is barfing. So… what's up with Danny? Why is he mean to Steve when Steve is nice to him?

    [7.64-7.69]

    This section is all about Wong Lai-Tsao's absolute devotion and loyalty to Tze-Yo-Tzuh. A demon spears him and puts him on a roasting pit, but Wong Lai-Tsao is totally chill and focused on the mission of convincing Monkey to free himself so that he can become Wong Lai-Tsao's disciple. Now that's some willpower.

    [7.103-107]

    Monkey's changed. He offers to seek medical help for Wong Lai-Tsao's wounds, and he also finally rids himself of his ridiculous shoes when Wong Lai-Tsao asks him to. This is Monkey returning to his true self—a total shift from the chapter when he forces his monkeys to wear shoes.

    [8.1-8.4]

    Jin's starting to act like a butt, and he asks Wei-Chen to lie to his parents for him while he's on his date with Amelia. True—this kind of stuff happens all the time between friends, but then that makes us wonder: is asking your friend to lie for you a form of betrayal?

    [8.109-8.124]

    This is the big betrayal in the book. Jin kisses Suzy, Wei-Chen's girlfriend, which leads to Wei-Chen punching Jin and walking away from their friendship. What's Jin thinking? Why does he kiss Suzy in the first place anyway? He's not even attracted to her… Or is he? And even if he were, does that matter? He still broke the number one rule between guys (and friends in general): don't try to steal another guy's girl.

    [9.130-9.136]

    Jin dreams about becoming white and—voila—he becomes white. But instead of freaking out, he's excited and names his new persona Danny… which, if you ask us, is definitely an example of betraying your race. That said, isn't it his own body? Can't Jin do whatever he likes to it? Is it wrong to do things like dye your hair blonde or wear blue contact lenses if you're not white?

  • Friendship

    [1.2-1.17]

    We find out what kind of ruler the Monkey King is—the kind that bops his monkeys on the head if they do something wrong, and speaks to them like he's their lord (granted, he kind of is). But we wonder: is this part of Monkey's problem? He puts himself on a pedestal above all the other monkeys and so he becomes totally full of himself. And there's no one around him who can tell him when he's acting ridiculous.

    [1.39-1.47]

    Monkey goes around bashing everyone's head when he finds out he's not allowed to attend the party in the heavens. We don't think we need to tell you that that's no way to deal with rejection, and it's definitely not a good way to persuade people to become your friends later on. Which is why Monkey ends up alone—a lot—in the first part of the book.

    [2.12-2.14]

    Jin tells us about how he used to have a group of boys just like him—same interests, same race—who hung out with him when he lived in Chinatown. He doesn't ever use the word friends to describe these guys though. Why is that? Are they his real friends?

    [2.50-2.58]

    Before Wei-Chen, there was Peter, the "friend" who basically used Jin as his personal punching bag. We see Peter as kind of a cautionary tale: even if you're lonely, you shouldn't just become friends with just anyone. Peter is definitely not solid friend material.

    [2.62-2.77]

    This is the part when Wei-Chen manages to befriend Jin, despite Jin's best attempts to ignore the new Asian kid. How does Wei-Chen do it? With a transforming robot-monkey. Ah, the power of toys.

    [5.8-5.10]

    Wei-Chen teases Jin about his crush on Amelia, and in response Jin tells Wei-Chen to stop being an "F.O.B." Hrm… that seems a little harsh to us, but Wei-Chen agrees with him. Is Jin really doing Wei-Chen a favor by telling him that he's being an "F.O.B.", or is Jin just being a jerk?

    [5.62-5.76]

    Wei-Chen totally sets up Jin (in a good way) when he tells Amelia all about Jin's friendship with him. It's one of those moments that make you see how heartwarming and genuine Wei-Chen is, which is probably why Amelia responds positively to his story about Jin. Lucky Jin, right?

    [9.58-9.69]

    This is the part when we find out that not only is Monkey Wei-Chen's father but that Wei-Chen feels really bitter about how Jin asked him to lie for him. As a result, Wei-Chen abandons his test of virtue for Tze-Yo-Tzuh and refuses to see his father. Sounds logical right? Okay, but here's the problem: How does this all work in terms of the timing of the plot? When does Wei-Chen actually have this conversation with Monkey? If he's angry over the lie Jin asked him to tell and he thinks that humans are "petty, soulless creatures" because of what Jin asked him to do, then why does he still remain friends with Jin after he tells the lie for Jin? Weird, right?

    [9.94-9.103]

    After the Monkey King tells Jin all about Wei-Chen, Jin waits for a month at 490 Bakery Café for Wei-Chen. But we don't know that Jin's waiting for Wei-Chen until the next set of panels. For these panels, we just know that he's waiting for something. It's not the most exciting set of panels, but it does create a delayed effect. We're forced to find out what exactly Jin is waiting for; the author basically baits us just like Monkey baits Jin. Pretty nifty trick, if you ask us. Added bonus? When Wei-Chen does show up, it makes Jin a lot more worthy of Wei-Chen's forgiveness. After all, Jin waited for a month—that's commitment.

    [9.104-9.125]

    Maybe it's a little cheesy of us to admit this, but the ending of the book really is a sweet, feel-good, makes-us-go-aw ending. Jin apologizes to Wei-Chen, who by now is so transformed by Jin's betrayal that he's turned into an Asian gangster (or at least he dresses like one). So it's just really fitting that—over a cup of pearl milk tea—Wei-Chen comes around and forgives Jin. Why is that pearl milk tea so significant? Pearl milk tea is the defining drink of Chinese Americans (especially Taiwanese Americans), so when Jin willingly says he'll go with Wei-Chen to Wei-Chen's favorite pearl milk tea place, Jin is basically showing Wei-Chen that he's cool with both his and Wei-Chen's Chineseness.

  • Lies and Deceit

    [2.26]

    Jin's at the old Chinese herbalist's shop playing with his Transformer, when the old lady starts asking what he wants to be. He tells her that he wants to be Transformer but his mother thinks he's being silly. Which prompts the old lady to get really mysterious and drop the big truth in the novel: "'It's easy to become anything you wish… so long as you're willing to forfeit your soul'." We'd raise our eyebrows too, like Jin does, if we heard some old lady tell us that. Here's a question though: Isn't transformation sometimes a good and necessary thing? Do you think this book is kind of against transformations in general?

    [Chapter 3]

    This chapter introduces us to the biggest form of deception in the whole book: stereotypes of Chinese people. How does that deception come about? The author, at least, seems to want us to think about how American TV and pop culture has a hand in spreading these images around, which is why the first panel of the chapter—with the words "'Everyone Ruvs Chin-Kee'"—is kind of like the introduction to a TV show. The title is pretty crafty too: everyone really does love Chin-Kee because without Chin-Kee, there wouldn't be a villain or a story. We can't do without Chin-Kee in this book.

    [8.1-8.4]

    Jin pressures Wei-Chen to cover for him so that he can go out on a date with Amelia, which Wei-Chen really doesn't want to do. But why is this such a big deal? Isn't that what friends do for each other once in a while? How else is Jin going to have a girlfriend unless he gets Wei-Chen to lie to his mom for him? Is it that big a lie?

    [8.70-8.78; 8.92-8.96]

    If these panels make you think Greg is a jerk, you're not alone. Greg tells Jin to back off of Amelia, but he does it in this faux-friendly way. We know he's really just faking his niceness because what he's asking Jin to do is the pits. Moreover, once Jin does exactly what Greg asks him to do—ignore Amelia—he talks smack behind Jin's back and calls him a geek. Do you think Greg secretly has a thing for Amelia? Does it matter?

    [8.130-8.136]

    We finally figure out in this section why Danny is white even though his cousin Chin-Kee is Chinese. Danny is actually Jin. So in other words, the author reveals to us that—up until this point—the book was lying to us. Why is this lie okay and other lies are not? Is story-telling fundamentally a big lie?

    [9.41-9.48]

    This is the part when Chin-Kee becomes the Monkey King and gets Danny to transform back into Jin. We're just wondering: why is it necessary for the Monkey King to front as Chin-Kee first in order to guide Danny back to his true self?

    [9.51-9.57]

    Because of Monkey, we know the story of who Wei-Chen really is and how he has been sent down from heaven to pass a test of virtue among mortals. But here's a question: how is Wei-Chen's test of virtue not also a lie or a form of deception? Isn't his big lie—pretending to be a human and not a monkey—really unfair to Jin, his best friend? Why is his lie okay and other lies are not?

    [9.59-9.69]

    Monkey's telling Jin about his last conversation with Wei-Chen. Wei-Chen reveals to Monkey that he told a lie to Jin's mom, which completely freaks Monkey out because that's a sin in the eyes of Tze-Yo-Tzuh. But Wei-Chen doesn't care anymore—he thinks humans are "petty, soulless creatures" and abandons his mission to become an emissary. However, we're not so convinced that Wei-Chen doesn't care anymore about his test of virtue. Why do we think this? If Wei-Chen really didn't care, would he be so angry and bitter? Wouldn't he just be indifferent?

    [9.109-9.113]

    We know what you're thinking when you look at these panels: "That is so not Wei-Chen." Wei-Chen isn't hard—he's the sweet geek who plays with robot monkeys, not a smoker or a bling-bling type of guy. And where did that rice rocket come from anyway? Isn't he in junior high? Point is, we know that Wei-Chen's faking his real self and so does Jin. Which is why, when Jin tells Wei-Chen he just talked to the Monkey King, the next panel shows Wei-Chen, in grey-scale, as a surprised little monkey. That's the real Wei-Chen; everything else is just a bad front.

    [The final panel]

    Flip to the very end—and we mean very end—of the book: the page right before the back cover. You see that single panel of Jin and Wei-Chen wearing Houston Rockets jerseys and singing in full ham mode, on what looks like an internet/YouTube clip? Now that is real. They don't care what anyone thinks; they're celebrating what they love, which includes basketball (and ex-Rockets center Yao Ming) and singing. No deception going on here folks—these guys are waving their freak flag high and proud.

  • Violence

    [1.12-1.15]

    We learn quite a bit about the Monkey King in these four panels. He's not actually a gentle ruler—though the narrator tells us he "ruled with a firm but gentle hand"—because he abuses his subjects if they don't "play nice." He also achieves immortality by mastering kung-fu moves that could seriously kill another being. In other words, the Monkey King's character is full of ironies and philosophical contradictions. Not exactly a stable character.

    [1.39-1.44]

    In case you can't tell by the harshly irregular and split panels, the Monkey King is an extreme personality who relies on his fists to resolve his anger. "Die!" is his response to the guard who bounces him out of the party, which seems a little extreme to us…

    [2.32-2.34]

    On Jin's first day at his new school, the teacher basically reaffirms Timmy's mean assertion that "'Chinese people eat dogs.'" Just an example of how teachers can support bullies through their ignorance of other cultures.

    [2.41-2.49]

    This scene shows perfectly the power dynamics of schoolyard bullying. You have Timmy, the big dolt, who bullies the new kid Jin. Then you've got Greg, who pops up as Jin's defender, and does so by sounding even meaner and tougher than Timmy. Greg becomes the head honcho for a second, but Timmy regains the upper hand. How? By including Greg in his group and shunning Jin. Greg, who almost became friend-material for Jin, becomes complicit in the bullying because he sticks with Timmy instead of with Jin. Complicated, right?

    [2.50-2.58]

    Immediately after the panels that show Timmy bullying Jin, we get a series of panels about the "friendship" between Peter Garbinsky and Jin. Peter is basically a bully too, but he offers Jin the reward of his companionship as long as Jin does whatever Peter tells him to do. We think it's pretty important that this scene follows the first bullying scene because it shows how bullying affects Jin. He becomes a weak character, who puts up with all sorts of abuse without any sort of fight.

    [2.59-2.61]

    The chain of bullying that starts with Timmy continues up to the point when Wei-Chen arrives at Jin's school. Since Wei-Chen is clearly not American (he's Taiwanese in fact), it prompts Jin the narrator to state that "Something made me want to beat [Wei-Chen] up." What exactly is that something though? Is Jin's trying to fit in by rejecting the person who looks most like him?

    [5.09-5.13]

    Wei-Chen and Suzy are teasing Jin about his crush on Amelia, which makes Jin feel bad. But all three of them really feel awful when Timmy passes by and says to his friend, "'Hey, I chink it's getting a little nippy out there'" and his friend responds, "'You're right! I'm getting' gook bumps!'" Really not cool of Timmy, but we already know that Timmy's a mean jerk. What's interesting is how the three friends—who were on the verge of bickering before—all end up having the same expressions and feelings: shame and sadness. Misery loves company, right?

    [8.83-8.92]

    After Greg tells Jin to leave Amelia alone, Jin daydreams in class about beating Greg up. But when it comes time to confront Greg outside of class, Jin can't follow through on his violent fantasy. What does he do instead? He tries to take Suzy away from Wei-Chen. So Jin's not exactly a class act; he's kind of a coward and a wimp. But here's a thought: Why Jin can't imagine any other solution to the Greg problem other than a violent one?

    [8.109-8.124]

    Because Jin does the awful thing of kissing Wei-Chen's girl, he gets punched twice: once by Suzy, another time by Wei-Chen. Which kind of shows how something like an unwanted kiss and violation of trust can be forms of violence too—one that results in a violent response.

    [9.6-9.40]

    This is the epic battle between Danny and Chin-Kee. We find out that Chin-Kee isn't just a stereotype of a sinister Fu Manchu—he's also a super kung-fu master who can beat Danny to a pulp. However, that doesn't stop Danny from getting the last punch in—the punch that knocks off Chin-Kee's head. What is this battle really about though? It's Danny literally beating the stereotypes that haunt him. Is all the violence necessary? We're kind of torn about that. On one hand, Danny's only able to arrive at the truth of the matter—Chin-Kee is the Monkey King, just like Danny is really Jin—after he beats these stereotypes up, so maybe the violence is needed, but on the other hand it seems really excessive, like a teenaged boy's kung-fu fantasy.

  • Appearances

    [1.30-1.38]

    We feel for the Monkey King. First the guard won't let him in because he doesn't have shoes, and then the guard admits that he won't let Monkey in because Monkey is a monkey. It also makes us think of those posh restaurants that have dress codes. Who are they really trying to exclude? Is it really about wearing a tie or is it about something more?

    [2.59-2.77]

    We're not afraid to admit that we love Wei-Chen. On his first day at school, he shows up in a buttoned-up shirt that says Robot Happy on it and high-water pants, with Pee Wee Herman hair and glasses. This is a guy who's clearly not ever going to be in the cool crowd. But who cares? He's a nice guy and he's got cool toys. What else matters in life?

    [Chapter 3]

    Chin-Kee's appearance in Chapter 3 just throws everything off in the book—all of a sudden, you've got a narrative that doesn't make sense. How can Danny, a white suburban teenager, be related to Chin-Kee, a thoroughly Chinese-ified character, down to the yellow skin, slanted eyes, and buckteeth? It's confusing, right? But Yang is a clever author because finding an answer to that last question pushes us to keep reading the book.

    [4.21]

    Okay—we know this isn't the most important panel. All it shows is the Monkey King telling one of his subjects that the shoes on his ears actually belong on his feet. But it brings up two things: (1) the Monkey King's rigidity, and (2) the silliness of the Monkey King's request. Why should it matter where the little monkey wears his shoes? Monkeys don't wear shoes.

    [5.12-5.16]

    This is one of those moments when you can tell the author's making a subtle political statement. The biology teacher introduces the class to a couple of animals that have been donated by Babelene Cosmetics, Inc. The animals have makeup on them—a clear reference to the makeup industry's use of animals for product experimentation. Plus, Mabel—the daughter of the company's exec—happens to be a student in Mr. Graham's class… and what does she look like? Completely ridiculous, with Botoxed, lipsticked lips and tacky eye makeup. Here's a wild guess: we don't think Yang's exactly in favor of the makeup industry…

    [5.14-5.24]

    Jin can't stop obsessing over the possibility that Amelia might like blond, curly-haired Greg, so what does he do? He changes his hairstyle and goes to school the next day with curly hair just like Greg's (only not blond). The effect? Totally ridiculous of course. But we're not laughing—it's kind of a sad moment because it's so clear that Jin's trying to be someone he's not.

    [6.60-6.70]

    Danny's on his way back from detention when he bumps into Melanie; he asks her out on a date, but Melanie rejects him. She says it's because she doesn't want to ruin their friendship and it has nothing to do with Chin-Kee, but we're not so sure because she also mentions that Danny's "teeth kind of buck out a little." Is Melanie avoiding a romantic thing with Danny because she doesn't want to appear uncool? Hrm…

    [7.15-7.23]

    Wong Lao-Tsai's an awesome monk. He's humble, generous and kind, but that doesn't stop Tze-Yo-Tzuh from testing him. He sends three of his emissaries down in the guise of humans, who try to taunt Wong Lao-Tsai into being a jerk. But it doesn't work. Wong Lao-Tsai is steadfast in his virtues, which is why the emissaries reveal their true form and mission to Wong Lao-Tsai—they know he's a true follower of Tze-Yo-Tzuh. The whole scene is an example of how sometimes a deceptive appearance might be necessary. If Wong Lao-Tsai weren't as solidly awesome as he is, he might have failed the test. Another way to look at is like this: the emissaries are like Tze-Yo-Tzuh's undercover cops. They go around and check to make sure Tze-Yo-Tzuh's peeps are under control. Sure, what they're doing is deceptive, but maybe sometimes we need deceptive appearances if they result in a greater truth?

    [9.39-9.46]

    Danny's fight with Chin-Kee results in their return to their true forms: Jin and the Monkey King. What's neat about their final reveal is how simple the panels look once they return to their original forms. The fight makes them larger-than-life characters, literally: Danny and Chin-Kee both look huge and their violent body parts extend outside of the panel frames. But once they become Monkey and Jin, the picture immediately becomes subdued: it's just a little monkey and a teenaged boy facing each other. Kind of a relief after all the visual zaniness…

    [9.109-9.113]

    We know what you're thinking when you look at these panels: "That is so not Wei-Chen." Wei-Chen isn't hard—he's the sweet geek who plays with robot monkeys, not a smoker or a bling-bling type of guy. And where did that rice rocket come from anyway? Isn't he in junior high? Point is, we know that Wei-Chen's faking his real self and so does Jin. Which is why, when Jin tells Wei-Chen he just talked to the Monkey King, the next panel shows Wei-Chen, in grey-scale, as a surprised little monkey. That's the real Wei-Chen; everything else is just a bad front.

  • Humility

    [2.8-2.11]

    The story of how Jin's parents met isn't a dramatic one, but that's kind of the point. They met as immigrant grad students at their university library; his mom worked at a cannery and his dad sold wigs in order to support themselves through school. Nothing fancy or exciting—just a lot of hard work. It's also the classic immigrant story: the immigrant works hard and finally achieves the American Dream of a stable home and family.

    [2.32-2.43]

    It's tough being the new kid at school. Add to that the fact that Jin is Chinese American and you just know he's in for a whole lot of public humiliation. There's his teacher for one—she can't even get his name right, plus she reaffirms Timmy's ignorant claim that Chinese people eat dogs. Then there's all the name-calling, and the rumors about his arranged marriage with Suzy Nakamura. So it's hard to blame Jin for not sticking up for himself, for appearing too humble. He's just a nice kid put in a bad situation. What can you do when you're being bullied like Jin? Jin's solution: stay away from bullies, and if they come around, go with the flow.

    [4.21-4.45]

    This part is all about the Monkey King making sure everyone knows that he's "the Great Sage, Equal to Heaven." How does he do this? By humiliating every deity he comes across to the point that they go to Tze-Yo-Tzuh's emissaries to complain. So basically he makes everyone submit to his greater power. Not exactly someone you want to cross, that Monkey…

    [4.49-4.96]

    The Monkey King finally meets Tze-Yo-Tzuh, and it's not pretty. Even though Tze-Yo-Tzuh clearly shows his omnipotence to Monkey, Monkey's a stubborn one who isn't into submitting at all, which is why Tze-Yo-Tzuh has to forcibly flatten him with a mountain of rock. But even though Monkey is humiliated, he isn't really humbled—even Tze-Yo-Tzuh's power has its limits.

    [5.19-5.20]

    This is just a brief moment in a larger scene, but it's pretty telling about how power works. Timmy makes a comment that's meant to humiliate Amelia, but Greg sticks up for Amelia. How does he do it though? By turning Timmy's joke back on himself and humiliating Timmy even more. So sure it's cool that Greg's able to defend Amelia, but he does it only by being a bully too.

    [6.4-6.19]

    We'll just point out the obvious: Chin-Kee is clearly not the humble type. He has no issues showing off… But there's something a little admirable about that. His glee is the complete opposite of Danny's humiliated self because Chin-Kee isn't afraid to be who he is. Danny on the other hand? He's kind of a coward.

    [7.9-7.16]

    Wong Lao-Tsai is the model of humility in the book. Why? Because he's naturally that way. No one forces him to be humble and serve Tze-Yo-Tzuh. Tze-Yo-Tzuh doesn't bully him into helping others. The key to Wong Lao-Tsai's nature? Love (and logic): "'I am no more worthy of love than you, yet Tze-Yo-Tzuh loves me deeply and faithfully, providing for my daily needs. How can I not respond in kind?'" The monk's got a point.

    [7.51-7.104]

    The Monkey King meets his opposite, Wong Lao-Tsai. We'll just point out that the Monkey King ends up becoming a model of humility. Why? Because he sees Wong Lao-Tsai physically suffer on a roasting pit for the Monkey King's stubborness. By the way, if you're thinking "Hey, this is a lot like Jesus dying on a cross or something," you're definitely not far off.

    [9.39-9.46]

    Danny's fight with Chin-Kee results in their return to their true forms: Jin and the Monkey King. What's neat about their final reveal is how simple the panels look once they return to their original forms. The fight makes them larger-than-life characters, literally: Danny and Chin-Kee both look huge and their violent body parts extend outside of the panel frames. But once they become Monkey and Jin, the picture immediately becomes subdued: it's just a little monkey and a teenaged boy facing each other. It's as simple and down-to-earth as the book gets.

    [9.121-9.124]

    Jin and Wei-Chen become buds again and all over pearl milk tea, probably the least hard drink you could imagine. What's more, Wei-Chen stops wearing his sunglasses in the restaurant and Jin's hair is back to normal. Plus, Jin agrees to Wei-Chen's offer to take him to another place that sells better pearl milk tea. Both boys are on the same level: humbled. Don't tell us your heart's not feeling a little warm and gooey inside…

  • Coming of Age

    [2.1-2.7]

    We never really meet Jin's mother, but we're betting that if she were more a part of the book, she'd be pretty funny. Take this parable she tells Jin: it's all about a mother who keeps moving with her kid because they keep ending up in an environment that distracts her son from a good path in life. They finally end up across the street from a university, so the son ends up studying all the time. It's a funny story because it's so clear what the goal of Jin's mom is: she just wants Jin to study hard (instead of play)—which is why they move to the suburbs. The sad part of course is that it's that much harder for Jin to feel at home with his Chineseness in white suburbia.

    [4.49-4.53]

    The Monkey King meets Tze-Yo-Tzuh and gets called little monkey—that can't be good for the Monkey King's ego. Talk about patronizing, right? We think there's a pretty good chance that Tze-Yo-Tzuh does it on purpose just to irk Monkey, who—predictably—gets irked. But what's funny is that Monkey doesn't say he's not little; instead he says he's not a monkey. Then Tze-Yo-Tzuh just layers it on and calls him silly little monkey, which of course makes Monkey even madder.

    [4.68-4.71]

    Maybe Monkey deserves to be called a silly little monkey because he's clearly not very mature. What does he do when he reaches the five golden pillars on his flight away from Tze-Yo-Tzuh? First he graffitis a pillar, and then he pees on the pillar. (By the way, if you're wondering what he writes, he basically tags the pillar with his new name "Great Sage.") It's hard to get more juvenile than that.

    [5.14-5.24]

    Jin can't stop obsessing over the possibility that Amelia might like blond, curly-haired Greg, so what does he do? He changes his hairstyle and goes to school the next day with curly hair just like Greg's (only not blond). The effect? Totally ridiculous of course. But it's also pretty normal for a teenager. How do you think trends start anyway?

    [6.1-6.27]

    We feel for Danny. Really. High school's hard enough, and then you throw in a cousin like Chin-Kee? Who wouldn't feel embarrassed and humiliated by Chin-Kee's loud personality and appearance? But that's the point of Chin-Kee—he's Danny's big obstacle because he represents Danny's fears of his own Chineseness. More than that, Chin-Kee represents Danny's fear of what other people might think when they see someone who's Chinese.

    [6.60-6.65]

    Danny asks Melanie out on a date, but Melanie rejects him. Danny's convinced it's because of Chin-Kee, so he tells Melanie: "I'm nothing like him! I don't even know how we're related!" But of course he does know—he just won't admit it because he doesn't want to admit that he's actually Chinese too.

    [7.51-7.104]

    The Monkey King comes of age only when he meets Wong Lao-Tsai because Wong Lao-Tsai shows the Monkey King who he could be: a simple, humble monkey, just like Wong Lao-Tsai is a simple, humble monk. Plus Wong Lao-Tsai is willing to die on the spear while waiting for Monkey to come around. Self-sacrifice: now that's maturity for you.

    [9.59-9.69]

    When Wei-Chen tells Monkey that he thinks humans are "petty, soulless creatures" and that "the thought of serving them sickens [him]," that's actually a pretty mature realization. In another book, that might actually be the coming of age moment because it's a realization of how awful the world can be. But not in this book. What is the coming of age moment for Wei-Chen? Read on…

    [9.82-9.125]

    When Monkey says to Jin that "'[he] would have saved [him]self from five hundred years' imprisonment beneath a mountain of rock had [he] only realized how good it is to be a monkey,'" he's uttering the big idea of this book. It's also this idea that sends Jin into his big coming of age moment—the moment when he meets Wei-Chen at the Chinese restaurant. It just so happens that Jin's coming of age moment happens at about the same time as Wei-Chen's. They both learn to return to their original, humble selves together, which is perfect if you ask us. Because really—the book is all about Wei-Chen and Jin's friendship with each other.

  • Transformation

    [2.15-2.26]

    When an old, mysterious lady tells you that you can change into anything, "so long as you're willing to forfeit your soul," and it's only Chapter 2, you know things are going to go bad… soon. Especially for Jin.

    [4.10-4.13]

    So the Monkey King has mastered the "four major disciplines of bodily form." You would think that would make a difference in his character because he can basically be anything he wants to be. But nope—he's still the same old angry, bitter, and vengeful Monkey.

    [4.81-4.89]

    What would you do if you more or less met God, and God instructed you to just accept who you are and stop whatever nonsense you were doing? You'd stop, right? Well not if you're Monkey. He's especially stubborn, maybe because he's got so much kung-fu under his belt. That might just make a guy think he could take on God.

    [5.8-5.11]

    This book is supposed to be all about Jin and the Monkey King, but Wei-Chen definitely has a way of sneaking up on you. Take this scene for example: Wei-Chen is teasing Jin about his crush on Amelia, when Jin tells him to "'stop acting like such an F.O.B.!'" Instead of getting all offended by that term, Wei-Chen totally takes it in stride and says "'Hm. This is true.'" Then out of nowhere, in the next panel he's got a girlfriend: Suzy Nakamura. The guy can change things in a second. What's the point of Wei-Chen's transformation though? It shows that Wei-Chen knows how to adapt, whereas Jin can't find the courage to even talk to Amelia.

    [5.14-5.24]

    Jin can't stop obsessing over the possibility that Amelia might like blond, curly-haired Greg. So what does he do? He changes his hairstyle and goes to school the next day with curly hair just like Greg's (only not blond). Of course, nothing really changes. Jin just ends up looking silly instead, especially to the people who know him best—Wei-Chen and Suzy.

    [7.5-7.14]

    Wong Lao-Tsai is the one character who doesn't change in the book. He does the same thing everyday—feed the homeless and tend to their wounds. He doesn't need to transform because he already knows who he is and what he wants: to serve the homeless faithfully for Tze-Yo-Tzuh. A transformation for him would just be excessive, and as such, out of character.

    [7.15-7.23]

    A lot of transformations in the book are kind of unnecessary—for example, the Monkey King's ability to get smaller (he hardly even uses that power). Which is why you've got to wonder: is it really all that necessary for Tze-Yo-Tzuh's emissaries to disguise themselves as vagrants in order to test Wong Lao-Tsai's virtue? Here's a thought for you: If Tze-Yo-Tzuh really does know what goes on in his subjects' hearts and knows "all their days" (he says this to Monkey), then why would he need to transform his emissaries into other beings in order to test Wong Lao-Tsai? Shouldn't he already know that Wong Lao-Tsai is a really solid guy? Kind of a head-scratcher in our opinion…

    [7.51-7.104]

    We can't talk about transformation without mentioning the earth-shattering change Monkey goes through after meeting Wong Lao-Tsai. Let's see: he calls Wong Lao-Tsai Master, and he also offers to fly Wong Lao-Tsai to the nearest town so that he can get medical attention for his wounds. But what's even more surprising is that he changes back to his normal size (he really is a little monkey like Tze-Yo-Tzuh says).

    [8.130-8.136]

    So: Jin is actually Danny. Clearly that's a big plot twist, but what about the old herbalist lady? Why does Jin dream about her before he becomes Danny? Here's an idea: If the Monkey King is a guide to Jin's conscience/conscious self, then maybe the old lady serves as a guide to Jin's unconscious desires. And while she may seem a little evil and scary, we think she might be necessary too since she leads Jin to figure out that things aren't actually all that different when he's Danny, particularly when it comes to his fears.

    [9.39-9.45]

    This scene is all about shock value: Chin-Kee's head bounces off of his body and out pops Monkey's head. It's pretty clear that we've got a major transformation on our hands, but what kind of transformation is it? Since Monkey is a Chinese mythological icon, he replaces the false stereotypes Chin-Kee represents. The Monkey King is a different kind of fantasy, one that's heroic and tough, and also grounded in actual Chinese culture (unlike Fu Manchu, who was a Hollywood creation). So when he appears, it's a sign that Jin's on the Chinese path to self-discovery.

  • Foreigness and "The Other"

    [1.146-1.147]

    We've got to admit it—even though the Monkey King is kind of an abusive arrogant jerk, we feel bad for him, especially when he returns home from the party he crashes. His house is lonely and dark, and as he enters, it's the first time he really notices his body odor. In other words, it's the first time he notices how foreign or Other he appears to the gods and goddesses… and it feels a lot like being picked last in gym class.

    [2.11-2.15]

    When Jin lives in Chinatown, he's anything but Other. All his friends look like him, plus they like the same Saturday morning cartoons and toys (clearly, the most important thing). These panels are a really strong contrast to the ones of Jin in his new suburban school. In his Chinatown home, all the kids play together harmoniously and there's none of the infighting and jockeying for power that Jin experiences at his suburban school.

    [2.29-2.34]

    Jin's first day at school is a total nightmare because his teacher and new classmates basically assume that he's from China even though he's from San Francisco. It's got to be frustrating when even the teacher can't get your background info right. This scene, by the way, makes Jin's defensive loner attitude completely understandable. Who can he trust when no one even recognizes that he's American too?

    [3.1; 3.17-3.26]

    Chin-Kee is the definition of the foreignr with his accented English, his lewd suggestions to Danny's friend Melanie, and his Fu Manchu appearance. In fact, we're pretty sure that if Chin-Kee were visiting China, he would still be foreign. Why? Because we're betting that no one is like Chin-Kee, no matter where you go. He's an outdated fantasy of 1930s popular American culture. But he's still scary—especially to Danny, who's worried he'll seem like the Other just by being related to Chin-Kee.

    [5.15-5.16]

    We're just going to point out here that Mabel, the blonde with a ton of makeup on in Mr. Graham's class, looks a lot more Other than anyone else in the book. Yang completely exaggerates her features so that she resembles the live animals her mom's company Babelene Cosmetics has donated to the bio class, and by contrast, the Asian kids blend right in with the rest of the students.

    [5.09-5.13]

    Wei-Chen and Suzy are teasing Jin about his crush on Amelia, which makes Jin feel bad. But all three of them really feel awful when Timmy passes by and says to his friend, "'Hey, I chink it's getting a little nippy out there'" and his friend responds, "'You're right! I'm getting' gook bumps!'" Not cool, right? You've got to wonder: what can Wei-Chen, Jin and Suzy do to deal with that kind of everyday bullying? Note, by the way, a total absence of school administrators and teachers in all these bullying scenes…

    [8.93-8.96]

    This is the part where Jin ignores Amelia after he sees her with Greg. After he walks away, Greg says: "'See what I mean? He's a nice guy, but he's kind of a geek. I mean what's with the hair?'" Clearly Greg's not a really nice guy, but what we're stuck on is his comment about Jin's hair—it ends up being ironic and kind of funny because he doesn't realize that Jin's hair is a complete copy of his own hairstyle (only without the blond color). Greg can't recognize a part of himself on someone else because he thinks Jin's so different than he is.

    [8.101-8.106]

    It's rare for this book to feature a girl talking deeply, so it's cool that Yang includes this scene with Suzy. She's telling Jin about how she felt excluded at a party given by an old Japanese school classmate of hers, and then she links her sadness about the party to Timmy's cruelty. Suzy expresses with more honesty than anyone else in the book just how hard it is to deal with the kind of name-calling Jin and the rest of them experience at school everyday. But we're also curious about something else: Why can't Jin—even Wei-Chen—state as clearly and as honestly as Suzy does how they feel about being excluded from mainstream American life? Why does Yang give Suzy these lines instead of the guys?

    [9.5]

    Ah… the Chin-Kee/William Hung/Ricky Martin performance… Where do we begin? Obviously the performance is completely cringe-worthy and embarrassing for Danny, and not just because the venue is totally inappropriate (they're at a library). It's also the fact that Chin-Kee just doesn't care—he's completely un-self-conscious, without any sense of shame in his performance or himself. So while he represents the foreign or the Other like no one else in the book, significantly he doesn't represent this to himself. This performance drives home the reality that all Chin-Kee's (and everyone else's, for that matter) Otherness is everyone else's problem projected on to him.

    Also worth noting is that fact that Chin-Kee's having fun with American culture, which makes us wonder: Why isn't anyone else? Why is everyone else so serious and protective of whatever constitutes American culture?

  • Versions of Reality

    [1.16-1.41]

    Have you ever felt that you ought to belong to a group only to find out that you've been excluded from that group? That's basically the Monkey King's situation when he tries to attend the party in the heavens and finds out that he's not wanted because he's considered an inferior being. We feel bad for the Monkey King because he's clearly been living on Fruit-Flower Mountain among his fawning monkey subjects for too long and hasn't had a reality check in a while. At the same time though, why does the party—or any group—have to be closed at all?

    [2.1-2.7]

    Jin retells a parable his mother told him right before they moved into their new home in the suburbs. The parable is a pretty funny because it's so obvious that Jin's mother is trying to spin the move to the suburbs as a positive thing, while at the same time repeating the stereotypical immigrant mom spiel about the importance of studying. The sad thing? Her parable is so disconnected from the actual pain and misery young Jin clearly experiences as they drive to their new home (he's got a tear falling and some serious downcast eyes). The whole parable is an example of how difficult it is for Jin's immigrant parents to relate to his reality.

    [2.15-2.28]

    This part describes Jin's first encounter with the herbalist's wife. He tells her about his wish to become a Transformer when he grows up, even though his mother thinks it's a silly dream. Then the old lady lets him in on a secret: "'It's easy to become anything you wish…so long as you're willing to forfeit your soul.'" While we see the truth to what she's saying, we can't help but wonder if forfeiting your soul is the only way—it sounds so unpleasant, right? Another way to look at this problem: Can forfeiting your soul be understood as transforming?

    [3.1]

    The title page to Chapter Three—"Everyone Ruvs Chin-Kee"—is all about introducing us to the idea of a TV sitcom, so it kind of prepares us for the premises of Chapter Three: that Chin-Kee is a real character and that Danny (a white boy) is related at all to Chin-Kee. At the same time, it's kind of an in-your-face way of projecting the racism in American pop culture back at the reader. Yang definitely doesn't want you feeling comfortable about yourself or the American culture while you're reading Chin-Kee's chapters (or any of the chapters, for that matter).

    [4.1-4.12]

    After the Monkey King forces all his monkey subjects to wear shoes, he goes deep into his cave and isolates himself for a long period of time. His excuse is that he's mastering all these advanced kung-fu moves to strengthen his position as the monkey deity, but you've got to wonder: after being humiliated at the party in the heavens, is Monkey hiding out in order to nurse his wounded ego too?

    Another thought: maybe the Monkey King needs to isolate himself to such extremes because that's the only way he can recreate his reality. If he were constantly out and about in the world, he'd be forced to see how everyone else sees him: as a monkey and not as the Great Sage, Equal of Heaven.

    [4.59-4.71]

    The Monkey King and Tze-Yo-Tzuh go head to head, and Monkey tries to prove that he really can escape Tze-Yo-Tzuh's incredibly long reach—he flies past the galaxy and the universe, and even flies "through the boundaries of reality itself." How that works or what that means, we're not entirely sure, but the point is that Monkey is way out there. And yet, even though he appears to have escaped Tze-Yo-Tzuh's grasp, he actually doesn't because the five pillars of gold he reaches (and pees on) end up being the five fingers of Tze-Yo-Tzuh's hand.

    Is the book actually that altering or escaping reality isn't really possible? That at the end we're all still dealing with one reality, the one that binds us to this world?

    [8.101-8.109]

    It's really easy to read the scene in which Jin kisses Suzy as Jin's way of repeating what Greg did to him with Amelia. But we think there's more to the scene than just Jin copying Greg's meanness. You might even be able to argue that Jin kisses Suzy out of a momentary feeling of sympathy, synergy… whatever you want to call it. Suzy says some really revealing things to Jin, things that resonate with Jin because he gets bullied too for being a "chink." So when Jin sees Suzy cry, it is possible that he actually feels close to Suzy. The "ZZZT!" and the lightning bolts in panel 108 kind of confirm that he's at least feeling something.

    Jin's problem? His feelings are all in his own head, on his side of the panel, not on Suzy's side. He's too caught up in his own misery to consider Suzy's actual feelings or Wei-Chen's feelings—he's in an incomplete reality, if you will. It's a moment of self-absorption that's actually kind of typical for Jin's character.

    [9.39-9.45]

    This scene is all about shock value: Chin-Kee's head bounces off of his body and out pops Monkey's head. It's pretty clear that we've got a major transformation on our hands, but what kind of transformation is it? Since Monkey is a Chinese mythological icon, he replaces the false stereotypes Chin-Kee represents. The Monkey King is a different kind of fantasy, one that's heroic and tough, and also grounded in actual Chinese culture (unlike Fu Manchu, who was a Hollywood creation). So when he appears, it's a sign that Jin's on the path to a new reality, one that more openly includes his Chinese self.

    This scene is all about shock value: Chin-Kee's head bounces off of his body and out pops Monkey's head. It's pretty clear that we've got a major transformation on our hands, but what kind of transformation is it? Since Monkey is a Chinese mythological icon, he replaces the false stereotypes Chin-Kee represents. The Monkey King is a different kind of fantasy, one that's heroic and tough, and also grounded in actual Chinese culture (unlike Fu Manchu, who was a Hollywood creation). So when he appears, it's a sign that Jin's on the path to a new reality, one that more openly includes his Chinese self.

    [9.82-9.125]

    The last scenes in the book—Jin's conversation with Monkey, and Jin's reunion with Wei-Chen—are like a return to the mundane world. Once all the wild fighting stops, the drama becomes really subtle and so do the panels. (Well, except when Wei-Chen rolls up in his detailed car with his bass pounding—but that only lasts a couple of panels.) But don't let all that subdued action make you think that things are back to boring for Jin and Wei-Chen.

    We think it's pretty important that they end up at a Chinese bakery/cafe/restaurant, drinking a beverage that's about as whimsical as Taiwanese drinks come: pearl (or boba) milk tea. The boys aren't back at school—the domain of white bullies—nor are they back at home, which is the domain of their parents. They're at a place that's a sign of how inventive and resilient Chinese American culture is. Who would expect a Chinese restaurant like 490 in a supposedly white suburb? The ending reframes the book in a new reality that Chinese Americans have refashioned for their own purposes. And that is pretty cool in our book.