Can romantic love truly last beyond the spark of a “first sight” crush, or is it bound by the forces of luck and fate? These themes and questions permeate the romantic drama comedy of award-winning creators Gene Luen Yang (American Born Chinese, Dragon Hoops) and LeUyen Pham’s (Friends series) Lunar New Year Love Story, a riveting graphic novel of unrequited love spanning across multigenerational and cross-cultural dimensions of family dynamics.
For fourteen-year-old Valentina (Val), love fell into and out of her life. Her imaginary best friend Cupid inspired her to send anonymous cards of encouragement to her classmates every year on Valentine’s Day. Later in life, a dark family secret illuminates the truth behind why her mom abandoned her dad. Crestfallen and jaded by this shocking revelation, Val loses the joy in sending out Valentine cards. Shortly thereafter, Cupid transforms into a shadowy specter christened Saint Valentine and proposes a challenge: Find true love within one year’s time, and if she fails, entrust her heart to him in exchange for protection from the pangs of love. Is Val’s yearning heart, like her parents’, destined for a life of fractured relationships, trapped in a persistent cycle of unfulfilled love? How can she break this curse, or is she doomed to succumb to its indomitable fate?
After a chance encounter with two attractive boys at a lion dance performance, Val decides to join their troupe. Through a series of plot twists, turns, and loops, the story delves into dramatic detours enhanced by expressive tonal colors. Characters partake in celebratory activities at a Têt festival—Vietnamese Lunar New Year—ensconced in varying shades of maroon. Scenes unfold through a montage of panels depicting cultural activities energized by lion dances choreographed across full-page spreads. Noir-like panels saturated with dark shades of charcoal gray herald the ominous wraith-like Saint Valentine hovering on the sidelines, intent on winning Val’s broken heart.
This tour de force of storytelling amplifies the plot through interethnic and intergenerational engagement between Vietnamese and Korean American cultures. Through this intricately crafted story, Yang and LeUyen combine captivating dialogue and symbolic metaphors to heighten the pursuit of genuine heartfelt love that transcends typical romances. The remarkable interplay of love, fate, family secrets, grief and loss, fractured family relationships, and reconciliation blend with supernatural and magical realism to produce an unerringly well-paced story. Radiating with intimate warmth and love through nuanced characters, this multilayered graphic novel will captivate young adult readers and beyond, a testament to the ingeniously plotted and exquisitely sculpted characters populating the backdrop of rich cultural traditions in diverse Asian American communities.
Lunar New Year Love Story By Gene Luen Yang Art by LeUyen Pham Macmillan First Second, 2023 ISBN: 9781250908261
Publisher Age Rating: 14-18 NFNT Age Recommendation: Older Teen (16-18)
Creator Representation: Chinese-American, Vietnamese American Character Representation: Korean-American, Vietnamese American
Myths offer an enchanting ability to engage our imaginations since time immemorial, conjuring forth and reshaping stories with extraordinary fascination. The superhero narrative exemplifies a timeless myth that never grows old, and award-winning graphic novelist Gene Luen Yang (American Born Chinese,Superman Versus the Klan) and Bernard Chang (Batman Beyond, Teen Titans) infuse new life into a mythology drawn from a 16th century Chinese epic (Journey to the West) in the first volume of Monkey Prince: Enter the Monkey.
When a brawl breaks out in the locker room of Gotham High School, Batman and Robin rush to the scene only to find a mischievous trickster monkey proclaiming himself as the “MotherFlippin’ Monkey Prince.” Little do they realize that this magical misfit is really high-school teenager Marcus Sun, whose foster parents harbor secrets wrapped up in their work as purported freelance scientists. After getting bullied from a classmate at school one day, Marcus runs into Mr. Zhu, a corpulent janitor with pig-like features who bestows him with supernatural powers, transforming him into a monkey-like superhero. Marcus adapts to a nearly indestructible body that can shapeshift, ride on clouds, reattach dismembered limbs in combat telepathically, and other quirks. In time, he learns that Mr. Zhu is actually the Shifu (teacher) Pigsy of the legendary Sun Wukong, a nearly omnipotent monkey king from Chinese myth and legend.
The story revolves around the ups and downs of Marcus as he undergoes a process of self-discovery after gaining his newfound powers while grappling with fear, courage, and self-discipline. Sinister forces lurk in the background—from the uprising of a demon that possesses the Penguin in Gotham City to a pink-haired, kick-ass girl with a mouthful of razor-sharp fangs in Amnesty Bay. Vibrant, stunning colors of gold, red, and green from the Monkey Prince’s outfit create a stark contrast to the shady blue of Gotham City’s noir world. Intricately drawn characters occupy action-packed panels, energizing amusingly choreographed fight scenes echoing escapades from the classic Chinese myth. Episodic side plots crisscross alongside Marcus’s coming-of-age story, unraveling a somewhat confounding and complex storyline, though still maintaining a narrative momentum that intrigues.
Ushering in a brand new superhero to the DC universe drawn from the mythos of an ancient Chinese epic, Monkey Prince highlights a reluctant yet bold superhero with a playful persona whose purpose and role remains to be seen. Flashbacks to past adventures (Monkey Prince #0) reveal an epic battle against Darkseid, so perhaps DC comics will reprint those side stories to supplement missing gaps in a future volume. A mix of mystery, magic, and fantasy blend into a storyline populated by superheroes, supernatural monsters, demons, dragon kings, and more, making this a unique addition to adult graphic novel collections for readers seeking something bordering on mythic fantasies fueled with wild antics.
Monkey Prince, vol. 1: Enter the Monkey By Gene Luen Yang Art by Bernard Chang DC, 2023 ISBN: 9781779517098
NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18) Creator Representation: Chinese-American Character Representation: Chinese-American