Originally posted on Tuesday, 06 May 2014 at ROPL.org.
By Gene Luen Yang
Check Our Catalog: Boxers & Saints
Review by Sarah Nagelbush, Adult Librarian
Available in two volumes or as a complete set, Yang’s graphic novels tells the story of two young adults growing up in China in the late 1890s. The two volumes follow their characters as their paths cross on several occasions. You can read them in whatever order you like, I read Boxers first and then Saints, but it doesn’t matter.
The volume Boxers is the story of Little Bao. He’s living in rural China when his village has run-ins with foreigners and Christians. Little Bao, tired of watching people he love be injured and die, decides to take things into his own hands. He learns to harness the powers of ancient Chinese gods and then becomes a leader to fight back against the Christians. In Boxers, the Christians and foreigners are portrayed as people bent on ruining the lives of the Chinese peasants. It was these events that led to the Boxer Rebellion (you can learn more about the Boxer Rebellion in the library).
Saints, on the other hand, tells the story of Four-Girl. She, like Little Bao, is living in rural China. But unlike the star of Boxers, Four-Girl’s life is miserable for different reasons. She’s the fourth daughter and not even given a name. Eventually she ends up finding an odd little family through Christians she runs into (both Chinese and Foreign) and renames herself Vibiana. But, as we learned in Boxers, all is not well for Christians in China. Vibiana, like Little Bao, must decide how she wants to handle the attack on her way of life. In Saints, it is the Chinese nationalists who are portrayed as people bent on ruining the lives of the Christians.
Neither Boxers nor Saintstells us how to feel. Instead, Yang takes the opportunity to educate us in his own unique, blending the fantastic with the real. Little Bao and Vibiana’s lives cross, both with the supernatural (Chinese gods in Little Bao’s case and the ghost of Joan of Arc in Vibiana’s) and with each other. The stories are not happy, but then again, the end of the Qing Dynasty wasn’t a happy time.
The graphic novels, though written for teens, are located in our adult graphic novel collection. There is violence, the Boxer Rebellion was akin to war. But Yang’s illustrations are truly fantastic, making this both a moving and educational read.