Boxers & Saints, by Gene Luen Yang
First Second Books, 2013
Colored by Lark Pien
Boxers & Saints is a two-volume graphic novel project that explores both sides of the Boxer Rebellion.
BOOK LIST * starred review *
In American Born Chinese (2006), Yang spoke to the culture clash of Chinese American teen life. In Boxers—the first volume in a two-book set, concluding with Saints (2013)—about the Boxer Rebellion at the end of the nineteenth century in China, he looses twin voices in harmony and dissonance from opposite sides of the bloody conflict. Boxers follows a young man nicknamed Little Bao, who reacts to religious and cultural oppression by leading the uprising from the provinces to Peking, slaughtering “foreign devils” and soldiers along the way. Between the two books, Yang ties tangled knots of empathy where the heroes of one become the monsters of the other. Little Bao and his foil from Saints, Four-Girl, are drawn by the same fundamental impulses—for community, family, faith, tradition, purpose—and their stories reflect the inner torture that comes when those things are threatened. Yang is in superb form here, arranging numerous touch points of ideological complexity and deeply plumbing his characters’ points of view. And in an homage to the driving power of stories themselves, Bao is captivated by visions sprung from lore: the spirits he believes possess him and his fighters. Much blood is spilled as Little Bao marches toward his grim fate, which is even more unsettling given that Yang hasn’t fundamentally altered his squeaky clean, cartoonishly approachable visual style. A poignant, powerhouse work of historical fiction from one of our finest graphic storytellers. Grades 7-11. --Ian Chipman