First Second, 2013
Boxers & Saints tells two sides of the same story. Boxers tells the story of Little Bao, whose village is abused by missionaries claiming the abuse is for good and in the name of Christ. Little Bao turns to the ancient Chinese gods and inspires a grassroots uprising, the Boxer Rebellion, that is successful for a time.
Saints tells the story of Vibiana, who has no place in her family, who call her Four-girl. When her village is taken by Christian missionaries, she finally finds a home with them. As the Boxer Rebellion gains momentum, she must decide to either commit herself fully to Christianity or return to the culture that turned its back on her.
Review: When I heard Gene Luen Yang speak a few months ago, he said that people either like Boxers or Saints, but not usually both. He was kind of right. I LOVED Boxers and liked Saints. Over all, the narrative together is brilliant and reading one without the other leaves the reader without the complete story. Yang has mastered the art of storytelling through comics.
One reason that both Boxers and Saints are so compelling to read is that both Little Bao and Vibiana are likable characters. You want them to find happiness in their situations and win their respective sides. That is how Yang really captures both sides of the rebellion. There isn’t a right or wrong side and Yang makes that very clear. He shows the complexities of the issue while still creating an entertaining, fast moving plot. I also really liked how Yang didn’t sugar coat anything throughout the novels. He was very straightforward about the hardships both Little Bao and Vibiana faced as well as the cruelty on both sides of the fighting.
Gene Luen Yang takes on one of the most controversial periods of modern Chinese history. These stories show Yang’s mastery of the human spirit. Boxers & Saints is must read and fully deserve all of the buzz they are getting. I can’t recommend these books highly enough.