Review: Boxers & Saints by Gene Luen Yang

boxers saints

Boxers by Gene Luen Yang

Saints by Gene Luen Yang

These two incredible graphic novels tell the story of the Boxer Rebellion in China in 1898.  Boxers is told from the point of view of Little Bao, a young villager who has seen the foreign missionaries and soldiers take the ancient Chinese gods and beliefs and smash them apart.  Trained in kung fu by a wandering man and also introduced to a ritual to bring the ancient gods to life, Little Bao becomes the leader of a band of commoners who become instrumental in the rebellion.  Saints looks at the other side of the rebellion and is the story of Four-Girl, a daughter not even given a real name by her family.  She finds a place for herself in Christianity, at first only attending the teachings because of the cookies but eventually finding a new name and new identity as Vibiana.  Her faith makes her a target and both Vibiana and Little Bao have to find the extent of their beliefs and what they are willing to sacrifice for them.  There are no easy answers here, no right and wrong, there are only choices in the middle of violence.

Yang has created two books that must be read together to get a full picture of the history.  Both books are one-sided, showing only the point of view of the rebels or the Christians.  At the same time, they are both balanced against one another, showing the violence on both sides, the hubris, and the faith.  They also both capture a young individual caught up in history and questioning their own choices.

As always, Yang has written a compelling book.  His art is strong and his story arcs are well developed.  I found Boxers to be the more interesting of the two with the Chinese gods and the question of being in control of that amount of violence.  Saints to me is a necessary foil to Boxers but lacks its depth.  That said, Boxers is one of the more compelling graphic novels I have read for tweens, so Saints had a lot to live up to. 

Highly recommended, this graphic novel duo has a place in every library collection.  Its violence and questions about faith, duty and responsibility make it a good choice for teens and tweens.  Appropriate for ages 12-15.

Reviewed from digital galleys received from NetGalley and First Second.

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