Saturday, December 14, 2013

Boxers & Saints by Gene Luen Yang

It has been mentioned lately that I’ve been reading nothing but romance…like this is a bad thing! 98% of my TBR bookcase is filled with romance…oh heck, it is probably 100%. I will admit that I have definitely been on a big romance kick lately. Usually I read nothing but romance in the Summer (Summer of Smut) as my way to cope with Summer Reading. It seems to have carried over into the Fall. Plus I went to the Southern Magic Romance Readers Lunch and in May I will be going to the Romantic Times Booklovers Convention in New Orleans (just for the Author book signing though).

I have decided to incorporate some of my other favorite genres back into my reading. I’m a big fan of graphic novels and I realized that I have gotten behind there. Here is what I have recently read:

Smile by Raina Telgemeier (I wrote a blog post on Smile – just haven’t posted it yet)
Robot Dreams by Sara Veron
Mercy Thompson: Homecoming by Patricia Briggs
Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh
Boxers by Gene Luen Yang
Saints by Gene Luen Yang

A few years back, I read American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang. I had seen it pop up on a few Goodreads lists and mentioned frequently in my grad school classes. I finally got around to reading it and I was very impressed with Yang’s ability to create identities in his characters that really connected with readers. When I heard about Boxers and Saints (which were published together in a boxset) I eagerly anticipated their publishing. Each novel represents a side from the Boxer Rebellion in China. I knew absolutely nothing about the Boxer Rebellion, so I was definitely intrigued.

I started with Boxers which tells the side of the Boxers, which to remove all foreign influence on China. The story is told from Little Bao, who is a peasant boy. As Bao grows, he is tried of seeing the injustice and vicious attacks on his community by the foreign “devils”. Bao starts to organize the rebels, by calling on the past warriors and Gods of China, to help run them out. As his views become more passionate, he directs his attention on the Christians missionaries who are working to convert the Chinese people to Christianity. As his regime grows more and more powerful, Little Bao loses sight of what is important.

A few days later I was able to get Saints which tells the story of Four-Girl, an unwanted and unnamed Chinese girl. Four-Girl lives a miserable life and eventually finds comfort in Christianity. With the help of Joan of Arc, yes…Joan of Arc, Four-Girl realizes her destiny to be a warrior woman for Christianity. With her new name, Vibiana leaves the family that has never wanted her and begins a new life with Christianized Chinese.

Compared to Little Bao, Vibiana’s story is not as developed in my opinion. I thought her life living with the Christians could have been fleshed out more.

I recommend reading Boxers first because you will be able to pick up on the references of minor characters in Saints. Boxers and Saints are interwoven, but each one can stand by itself. Together, Yang has created a poignant, but sorrowful story of faith.

Check out NPR’s interview with Yang. I read several reviews written on Boxers and Saints, but this article was my favorite, because you gain more of an understanding about why Yang chose the Boxer Rebellion. In many of the reviews I found, the reviewers had a problem with the amount of violence depicted and whether it was appropriate or not for teens. There is a lot of gore in Boxers and Saints and Yang does not shy away from the horrific, but this is a story that needs to be told. There is no way to politely explain the Boxer Rebellion, unless you present the destruction and turmoil that both sides caused. I'm not the kind of librarian that gives warning messages when I book talk a book. It is bloody, but you know was the Boxer Rebellion. 

I hope you take the time to read Boxers and Saints and I hope that they inspire you to research more about the Boxer Rebellion. 


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