Boxers & Saints
Boxers & Saints
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Gene Luen Yang
ISBN 9781596439245
First Second/Macmillan, 2013.
National Book Award Finalist
5 stars
Keywords: boxer-rebellion boxers-saints china christianity gene-luen-yang society-righteous-and-harmonious-fist

Boxers & Saints
by Gene Luen Yang

For maximum appreciation of Gene Luen Yang's (American Born Chinese) extraordinary achievement with this "graphic diptych," Boxers and Saints must be read together. Boxers unfolds through the eyes of Little Bao, the third of three sons living in 1894 Northern Shan-tung Province; while Four-Girl--the only one of four daughters to survive past a year--guides readers through Saints. Their paths criss-cross in the two books. It's a brilliant way to approach any conflict, but especially one as complex as China's Boxer Rebellion.

Though he's illiterate, Little Bao learns the history and legends of China through operas about the Monkey King and the God of War. The arrival of the Europeans leads Little Bao to Red Lantern, an expert in the martial arts, and Bao's ascension within the Brother-Disciples of the Society of the Righteous and Harmonious Fist, the chief defenders of the powerless peasantry. As they fight, Yang's graphic novel sequences chart their metamorphosis into the deities Bao knows through his love of opera; peasants transform into gods, like Clark Kent to Superman. Similarly, in Saints, Four-Girl discovers a kindness among the Christians that she doesn't find at home. In a moment of great desperation, she sees a vision of Joan of Arc.

Crossover appearances between the two books convey a larger historical context. Lark Pien's use of color in an otherwise earth-toned palette endows each book with its transcendent quality. Yang convincingly conveys two sides to this complex story, each deserving of a hearing

This review first appeared on Shelf Awareness for Readers.
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