Due out in April from First Second is Gene Luen Yang’s newest book, Prime Baby. It’s 64 pages for $6.99 in paperback. However, there’s no need to wait — the story was originally serialized in The New York Times Magazine and you can still read it all online.
Based on doing so, I have to admit, I still don’t get Yang’s work. I know he’s highly acclaimed for American Born Chinese, but I couldn’t recommend or finish it because of the racist stereotypes. I know he was reclaiming them and using them to comment on racism, but they still made me too uncomfortable, whatever the purpose, to appreciate the story.
Anyway, Prime Baby is about a goofy young boy who doesn’t have any friends. He’s jealous of his new younger sister, and he insists that she’s an alien, which turns out to be true. It’s kind of a fable about realizing who’s really important to your life, but I wish it had more structure to it. By the end, Thaddeus is still self-centered, still has no friends, and in fact is even weirder than before.
There are some cute concepts in the story — like Thaddeus’ fascination with drawing exaggerated mustaches on himself with marker, which provides silly visuals — but it all didn’t come together into much for me. It seems to end in the wrong place, with more story to be told to achieve a satisfying ending. Thaddeus is mean and bitter, which I suppose is realistic for a jealous little boy, but I had hoped to see him gain a little more self-realization.
Visually, while the little girl is adorable, Thaddeus looks to me like a monkey version of the Frankenstein monster, due to his triple nostrils and extraordinarily square head, and the aliens reminded me of Muppets. A key wordless emotional moment was unclear to me until a character later explained it in text, because Yang’s art just isn’t detailed enough to convey it.
The beginning of the story, where Thaddeus learns about prime numbers and figures out that his sister is babbling in those patterns, is much more intriguing than what it turns into, in my opinion, and I’d have rather seen more about the aliens’ mission, which was unusual and refreshing.