By: Gene Luen Yang
Response Number One:
It was confusing to switch so often between the storylines of Jin and Danny, but not as much between those of the Monkey King and the human world. I’m still not sure how Danny and his cousin Chin-Kee fit into the story.
So far, this graphic novel touches lightly on racism, moving to a new home that is/feels like a foreign country, and bullying/exclusion based on race/ethnicity.
Some questions I might ask a class about this book: why wasn’t the Monkey King accepted/allowed into the dinner party? How is that similar to (historical/current) situations in real life? What do you think about Chin-kee? Is he a relatable character? Is he a realistic one? Why (not)?
Response Number Two:
This novel ties together Chinese myth and Christian religion (turns out, the author is Catholic Chinese), which was a crossover that I didn’t expect. I would be interested in discussing that with a class, to see if they agree with the crossover or not. It would be an interesting turn into the religious arena.
We see later that Jin and Danny are one and the same after the Monkey King (Wei-Chin’s father) tries to teach Jin about valuing himself for the way that he is, not the way he feels like he needs to be in order to fit in and date Amelia. Chin-kee represents some stereotypes that I wasn’t even aware existed, so I would be highly interested to ask students about whether they agree with those stereotypes. Are they even specifically Chinese stereotypes?
Jin echoes Greg’s words as he spoke to Wei-Chin on the porch after kissing Suzy. I would want to ask students about why that is. Although Greg wasn’t explicitly rude like Timmy was, are Greg’s intentions good ones? Why (not)?
I found that, by the end of the novel, the three story lines of the book (the Monkey King, Jin/Wei-Chin, and Danny/Chin-Kee) finally pulled together and became part of each other. In the end, I think the one of the biggest messages is to be happy and comfortable with who you are, despite the prejudices against you. After angering Wei-Chin with an insult, Jin magically transforms into Danny (in a dream?). He finds, however, that being non-Chinese isn’t everything it’s cracked up to be when he can’t seem to escape his stereotypically Chinese cousin, Chin-Kee. Chin-kee seems like an amalgamation of ALL Asian stereotypes, and he embarrasses Danny so much that he must continually change schools after each visit.
I don’t want to spoil the book for the next reader (so I won’t say how exactly EVERYTHING goes together), but somehow Jin meets the Monkey King and realizes that you may save yourself a lot of time and pain if you just accept how good it is to be exactly who you are, even if others have a difficult time accepting that. Even the book itself is unique, as it crosses over from Chinese myth/beliefs to Christianity. The story is similar to Diary of a Part-Time Indian, except its protagonist is Chinese. Jin moved to a new school, had no friends until Wei-Chin came along, and falls in love with a (white) classmate, which causes problems because, although Jin tries to identify with the rest of his classmates, the “popular” crowd doesn’t seem to be able to accept him. In the end, Jin can become more secure with his own identity.
“<So little friend, what do you want to become when you grow up?>”
“<Well…I…I want to be a Transformer…> …A robot in disguise!”
Conversation between young Jin and the herbalist’s wife, 27-28
- I chose this quote because it foreshadows the rest of the book where we see Jin trying to “transform himself” in order to be accepted, but still unable to eliminate his true identity on the inside. Both Jin and Wei-Chin are transformers, but the end of the story seems to point out that your true self is your best self.
“I do not make mistakes, little monkey. A monkey I intended you to be. A monkey you are.”
Tze-Yo-Tzuh to Monkey King, 81
- This quote points out the divine, final emphasis on the fact that you were made to be something, and it’s the human’s job to not only accept that, but also to find a way to flourish within the life and identity that was given to you.
“I’ve found humans to be petty, soulless creatures. The thought of serving them sickens me.”
Wei-Chin to Monkey King, 219
- This is from the scene in which Wei-Chin is telling his father, the Monkey King, that he no longer wishes to serve the human race as emissary of Tze-Yo-Tzuh. His disenchantment with humans is a result of Jin’s actions and the direct insult to Wei-chin after he kissed Suzie Nakamura (which echoes Greg’s request/passive insult to Jin). In not living up to his own identity, Jin upset his friend Wei-Chin (who also happens to be emissary-in-training for the god who created all…an example of why it’s a good idea to be nice to the “nerds/geeks”).
“To find your true identity…within the will of Tze-Yo-Tzuh…That is the highest of all freedoms.”
Wong Lai Tsao to Monkey King, 149
- This relates to the “I do not make mistakes” quote. To blossom into your own identity within divine will is the freedom being promoted here. Does this also promote destiny? That you can’t change your fate?
“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.”
Monkey King to Jin, 223
- I think this might be a good overarching quote for the book. You’re going to save a lot of time, pain, and disappointment if you’re able to accept yourself for who you are. The friends you make along the way will be better ones if they know and accept you for who you really are. No one should be able to embarrass or force you into being someone else.
- Graphic form, occasionally crass humor (but it’s comic relief for a story that otherwise might have been a bit heavy).
- Interlocking storyline that interweaves past/present, Eastern/Western culture
- Chinese myth ←→ Christian faith
- Gook, Chink: I chose these because these derogatory words seem like ones that students may not be familiar with. I myself am not that familiar with them, though I understand what they mean.
- Sage: The Monkey King, after emerging from his seclusion, wants to be called “The Great Sage, Equal of Heaven.” This seemed like a word worth knowing (it’s one of my favorites).
- Emissary: There are certain characters of the novel who are emissaries of Tze-Yo-Tzuh, including Wei-Chin, thus making this word integral to the story. It’s also not one that’s commonly used in vernacular language.
- Deity: Another integral/uncommon word, because the novel deals with the presence of deities, and also portrays a view of religion in a creative way.
- <text>: Integral, though not actually a word. The brackets mean that what’s being said is translated from another language
- O.B.: “Fresh Off the Boat,” what Jin ad Wei-Chin strive not to appear to be in order to fit in in America.
- Identity: Integral for understanding one of the greater themes of the novel