August 11, 2021 7:34 AM EDT

Innovative and unsettling, Gene Luen Yang’s 2006 graphic novel explores Asian American identity through three very distinct narratives. One is a coming-of-age story about a new student who is the only Chinese American in his school. Another focuses on the iconic Chinese mythical figure Monkey King. And the third centers on Chin-Kee, a character meant to embody the most damaging Chinese stereotypes. Chin-Kee’s presence in American Born Chinese is intentionally offensive—and therefore controversial—but Yang’s intent with the harmful dialogue that surrounds the character is to force young readers to dissect the implications of racism and the complexities that come with growing up Asian American. Winner of a Michael L. Printz Award and a National Book Award finalist (the first graphic novel to earn these distinctions), American Born Chinese is a startling portrait of the intersection of identity, racism and anxiety. In 2016, Yang won a MacArthur “genius” grant for his body of work, which the foundation cited as showing young people “the potential of comics to broaden our understanding of diverse cultures and people.” —Annabel Gutterman

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