Published by First Second Books on September 10, 2013
Genres: Historical Fiction
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In two volumes, Boxers & 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.
Boxers & Saints is one of the most ambitious graphic novels First Second has ever published. It offers a penetrating insight into not only one of the most controversial episodes of modern Chinese history, but into the very core of our human nature. Gene Luen Yang is rightly called a master of the comics form, and this book will cement that reputation.
Graphic novels are quickly becoming some of my favorite things to read. They tell stories so beautifully while also being really fast reads. Boxers & Saints may be two books that total 512 pages but I flew through them both.
Boxers tells the story of Little Bao, a young Chinese man who is tired of the Christians coming through China, taking their food and land with no repercussions. Following in the footsteps of his mentor, Red Lantern, Little Bao uses his skill in kung fu to fight the Christians. He learns to summon the ancient Gods and channel their powers against the Christians and their followers. He creates the Society of the Righteous and Harmonious Fist along with his brothers and other men from his village. They go through China, taking out Christians along the way and picking up more men for their cause.
Saints tells the story of Four-Girl (Vibiana) who is taken in by the notions of Christianity and decides to become a follower of the faith. She takes up residence in a compound full of other Christians, thinking she has finally found a good home where she will be accepted and loved. However, at the time, the Boxer Rebellion is in full swing and closing in on Vibiana and her new friends.
This is one series that you really do need to read together. You truly only get half of the story in each book. Once you read the first one though, you’ll be intrigued enough to check out the second one. The stories are amazingly told through beautiful (extremely graphic) illustrations. I knew absolutely nothing about the Boxer Rebellion before reading Boxers & Saints and I truly felt like I learned a lot from these books. Gene Luen Yang did a great job keeping both books relatively unbiased and presenting readers with both sides of the story. My heart truly hurt for both Little Bae and Vibiana for their circumstances. It’s unusual for a story to be told like this one where the villain of one book is the hero of the other and vice versa.
Overall, Boxers & Saints is great for long-time fans of graphic novels or for readers looking for a good place to start. It’s an extremely interesting tale of war, family, and love of country.
What others are saying about Boxers & Saints:
Good Ok Bad’s review: “To this end, Yang has intentionally created a work designed to interact with our sense of self by pushing us to understand the human story from multiple vantage points.”
YAdult Review’s review: ” I also give a great hand clap to Yang because the drawings and the story had me intrigued throughout Boxers.”