Boxers and Saints by Gene Luen Yang
Reviewed by Shappy
Gene Luen Yang has become one of the most celebrated artists in the graphic novel scene today. American Born Chinese was the first graphic novel to be nominated for a National Book Award. His latest release, Boxers and Saints, has also been nominated for the National Book Award. It’s a stunning piece of work. It tells the story of the Boxer Rebellion from the perspective of two young people from both sides of the conflict.
In Boxers we meet Bao, who eventually becomes the leader of the Society of the Righteous and Harmonious Fist which calls upon the power of the Chinese gods to resist the Christian colonization of China. Yang’s style of drawing is very clean, almost like animation cells, and the use of muted colors during the realistic scenes only makes the colors pop even more as the Gods appear during the battle scenes.
Saints tells the story of Four-Girl who never receives a name because in Chinese culture, the birth of a fourth female in a family is an omen of death. As a result she is shunned by her family and considers herself a devil-girl. She is drawn to the local Christian missionary as a means to become even more of a devil, but then starts having visions of Joan of Arc that lead her to believe that she is destined to become a female warrior for God. Again much of the story is told with muted colors, but big, bright colors are used when Joan of Arc and Christ appear to the baptized Four-Girl now known as Vibiana.
I knew very little about about the Boxer Revolution prior to reading this book and I found it to be a fascinating and exciting adventure/quest story that also touches on the complicated relationship most cultures have in dealing with religion and its meaning to us personally and to our way of life.
While I wouldn’t call this an “all-ages” book, as there is some violence and mature themes, it is certainly appropriate for young adult readers ages 12 and up. This book should join Maus on reading lists for historical graphic novels and will really widen your perspective and knowledge of this important event in Chinese history.
Gene Luen Yang will speak about and sign copies of Boxers and Saints here at BookPeople on Wednesday, September 25 at 7pm. The event is free and open to the public.