I was never into graphic novels until I bought my oldest son Gene Luen Yang’s best-seller, American Born Chinese (Square Fish, 2008). I was looking for books with a Chinese theme and this one seemed like it would be of interest to a then-thirteen year old.
A few years later I read American Born Chinese and found that I really enjoyed it. The story was clever and bold, alternating between a classical Chinese tale and a present day one.
This year my son bought Gene Luen Yang’s graphic novel, The Boxers (First Second, 2013). And this time, before number one son read it, I did. At the suggestion of my friend Joy, I also read the companion novel, The Saints (First Second, 2013). And I loved that one, too!
So now for my book of the week. My friend Christine told me months ago about Gene Luen Yang’s new comic book/graphic novel, The Shadow Hero (First Second, 2014), illustrated by Sonny Liew. This book centered on the first Chinese superhero, she exclaimed.
I have to say I’m not really into superheroes, but after reading these other Chinese-themed graphic novels, I picked up The Shadow Hero and was hooked from the beginning!
It tells the story of an American-born Chinese teenager, Hank Chu, who is content working in his father’s grocery store in Chinatown. Hank’s parents are both immigrants from China and have a contentious marriage. Hank’s mother complains that Hank’s father is weak. Hank’s father, on the other hand, enjoys his new life as a grocer. It sure beats his turbulent years as a drunk fighter back in China.
Little does anyone know, but the elder Chu has a superpower given to him by a tortoise shadow. After Mr. Chu’s brutal death, the tortoise shadow offers a superpower–just one–to Hank.
So Hank tries to stop the corrupt Chinatown gangs and gets into trouble along the way. I read this book one afternoon when my kids had a couple friends over and were playing superheroes (totally by coincidence). At one point they saw I was reading The Shadow Hero and asked me what it was about. I gave them the outline of the story, but sensed that they could handle a bit more.
I read them this book for their bedtime story that night, even though some of the language and concepts were above a 6- and 8-year old. Sometimes I stopped myself from continuing when I reached those parts; other times I spoke too quickly and hoped it would go over their heads. Time will tell on that one.
The Shadow Hero is slated for kids grade 7 and up. My daughter is going into third grade and my younger son first. Whenever I thought it was a little heavy for them, I remembered that other kids their age play violent video games. I guess it was all right for my kids because whenever I wanted to break for the evening, they begged me to continue reading. And I can’t argue with that!