Sunday, February 9, 2014

Graphic Novel Review: Boxers and Saints by Gene Luen Yang

Boxers (Boxers & Saints #1) by Gene Luen Yang

Completion Date: February 5, 2014
Length: 325 Pages

Synopsis from Goodreads:
China, 1898. Bands of foreign missionaries and soldiers roam the countryside, bullying and robbing Chinese peasants.
Little Bao has had enough. Harnessing the powers of ancient Chinese gods, he recruits an army of Boxers--commoners trained in kung fu--who fight to free China from "foreign devils."
Against all odds, this grass-roots rebellion is violently successful. But nothing is simple. Little Bao is fighting for the glory of China, but at what cost? So many are dying, including thousands of "secondary devils"--Chinese citizens who have converted to Christianity.
Yep. Another reread. Another situation where I read book 1 and then never read book 2. And, another book I never reviewed when I read it in June of last year. Frankly, as much as I love graphic novels... I hate reviewing them... Standalones are okay, but I find series impossible because I hate spoiling stuff. Apparently 2013 was just not the year of the graphic novel for me. I did really bad with keeping up on things. This year is about fixing that! Gene Luen Yung has quickly become one of my favourite graphic novel authors. I originally read him in 2009 and have made a point to pay attention to his releases ever since. When I first heard of this duology I knew I was going to have to grab a copy.

I really enjoy a book that makes you want to read more books. That is what was the result of Boxers. I don't know very much about this period in history. Yung's book was a nice introduction, but I really want to explore the topic more in the future. I appreciate that Yung has done this because other people I know also have mentioned wanting to know more. This comic follows Little Bao. Circumstances come together to make Bao grow up very quickly and lead a rebellion against the 'devils' of China. They have moved in and taken over. There has been much death since. There has also been loss of ways with the influx of 'white' believes pushing out the older Chinese customs. It is time for the Chinese to take action and they do in a very spiritual way. (I want to say it is like Magic Realism... I know it isn't really, but from our modern standpoint it is close to it.)

Little Bao is an interesting character. You get to see him grow throughout the book. He doesn't always make the right decisions, but he does what he thinks is in the best interest of China. It made for a very interesting story that I enjoyed just as much the second time as the first.

Strongly Recommended!

Saints (Boxers & Saints #2) by Gene Luen Yang

Completed: February 5, 2014
Length: 170 Pages

Synopsis from Goodreads:
China, 1898. An unwanted and unwelcome fourth daughter, Four-Girl isn't even given a proper name by her family when she's born. She finds friendship--and a name, Vibiana--in the most unlikely of places: Christianity.
But China is a dangerous place for Christians. The Boxer Rebellion is in full swing, and bands of young men roam the countryside, murdering Westerners and Chinese Christians alike. Torn between her nation and her Christian friends, Vibiana will have to decide where her true loyalties lie...and whether she is willing to die for her faith.
I wish I had read this last year. I really liked this book! What Yang essentially does with this story is go back to the beginning with a character that will appear a couple times in Boxers. We see her difficult up-bringing and how she winds up turning to Christianity. Her grandfather would not give her a name; so she grew up being called Four-Girl until she is baptised and can rename herself to Vibiana. This is her story and I really liked the female-viewpoint. There is a female character that prominently appears in Boxers, but the story is only told from Bao's point of view. So, in just 170 pages Yang talks about gender issues, growing up a girl in China, Christianity, and the Boxer Rebellions. It is about half the size of Boxers but just as powerful.

I felt really bad for Vibiana. Her goal in life was just to get her grandfather to love and accept her, but nothing she tries works out. This leads her on an entirely different path away from her family and up-bringing. It gives her a chance to be herself and break away. It is not always perfect, though. She really struggles with her identity and her decisions. But, it is worth reading. I would definitely read Boxers first, though. And don't be like me, read them both at the same time! They really flow well together and like all of Yang's work, they are worth checking out. Not to forget, but this book also ties in Joan of Arc!

Strongly recommended!

(This post originally ran at The Written World.)

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