★ ★ ★ ★
Boxers and Saints by Gene Luen Yang | September 2013 | First Second (an imprint of Macmillan) | Boxed set $34.99
In two volumes, Boxers and Saints tells two parallel stories. The first is of Little Bao, a Chinese peasant boy whose village is abused and plundered by Westerners claiming the role of missionaries. Little Bao, inspired by visions of the Chinese gods, joins a violent uprising against the Western interlopers. Against all odds, their grass-roots rebellion is successful.
But in the second volume, Yang lays out the opposite side of the conflict. A girl whose village has no place for her is taken in by Christian missionaries and finds, for the first time, a home with them. As the Boxer Rebellion gains momentum, Vibiana must decide whether to abandon her Christian friends or to commit herself fully to Christianity.
I recommend that you read Boxers and Saints together. Though the stories are fictional, and do include some fantasy elements, I still think I learned more about China during this time period than I ever did in history class at school — probably because I kept feeling compelled to look things up as I read!
Despite the really difficult subject matter, I think the author did a great job of keeping the story perfectly “age appropriate” … that is, not for little kids but not at grad dissertation level either. The atrocities of war and what it can do to otherwise normal, relatable people — particularly in a “civil” war — are not glossed over, but are presented clearly in lovingly illustrated but unflinchingly realistic fashion (despite the bits of fantasy and the usual narrative license you get from historical fiction, I guess). Maybe I’m getting a little overenthusiastic with my adjectives, but I’m not sure how else to describe what I mean.
Definitely recommended for folks interested in war histories and/or the history of China, those who want to try graphic novels but who aren’t tempted by the popular superhero stories, and readers who are willing to face the philosophical difficulties of human nature.
- Official website of Gene Luen Yang
- National Book Awards page for Boxers and Saints
- Yang’s interview with NPR
Publication information: Yang, Gene Luen. Boxers. New York: First Second Books, 2013. Print.; Yang, Gene Luen. Saints. New York: First Second Books, 2013. Print.
Source: Public library
Disclaimer: I am not compensated, monetarily or otherwise, for reviews of books or other products.