The story of American Born Chinese consists of three separate tales.
The first tale is based upon the legendary folk tale of Sun Wukong, or The Monkey King, a character from the classic Chinese novel Journey to the West.
The second tale is the story of a first-generation child of immigrants named Jin Wang, who has moved from San Francisco's Chinatown to a mostly white suburb. Jin Wang struggles to fit in within his new school, and within white American culture. His story links the other two narratives, and fits the form of an ethnic coming-of-age. At school, he struggles to fit in, becomes friends with Wei-Chen Sun, a Taiwanese boy, and later dates Amelia Harris, an all-American girl, but the relationship doesn't last because of his classmate Greg's disapproval of the relationship.
The third tale tells the story of a white American boy named Danny, whose Chinese cousin Chin-Kee (as in "Chinky") comes and visits every year. Chin-Kee displays many American racial stereotypes of the Chinese in terms of accent, dress, hairstyle, physical appearance, eating habits, academic performance, and hobbies. Danny is troubled by Chin-Kee's visits.
While the three tales are seemingly unrelated at first, it is later revealed in the book that Danny is actually Jin Wang, who "transformed" into a White boy after being prevented from pursuing the girl of his dreams for being Chinese. Eventually, Danny fights Chin-Kee, only to find out that Chin-Kee is really the Monkey King, who came to remind him of his true identity. Ultimately, Jin Wang gives up his "Danny" persona and embraces his Chinese identity.