Books Reviewed · YA Novels

Boxers & Saints by Gene Luen Yang Book Review

Hello my lovelies!

I’m working on catching up on some of my reviews (if you couldn’t tell). I’m happy to be active again (even if it’s only to distract from school work). I will be picking up my pace hopefully once school ends (which it does on the 29th!! hooray!!). I’ll have all of August to be active and hopefully catch up on all the reviews I owe you, plus all the cross-posting I owe the authors. After that I start up my Fall semester (and last semester in Boston 😦 ) in September. I’ll be busy with an internship and two classes, but I’ll do my best to stay semi active on here. If any thing, I’ll be pretty active on Instagram and of course on updating my GoodReads 🙂 If you aren’t following me on those two platforms (and want to), then check out my links at the bottom of this post to follow me!

Alright, so today’s review is a bit unusual. I’m reviewing a duology or companion graphic novels. Boxers by Yang tells one side of the story and Saints tells the “same” story from a different POV. Let’s just say these were so great to read one after the other! Check out my review below for more!

Also, if you’re sort on time, then check out my Need to Know section for a quick summary of my review!

Ownership: Borrowed both from the library
Genre: 
Historical/Magical Realism Graphic Novels 
Publisher:
First Second 
Published: 2013
Pages:
Boxers: 325; Saints: 170
Price:
Boxers: $18.99 (softcover); Saints: $15.99 (softcover)
Place Boxers:
Amazon, B & N, Book DepositoryGoodReads, IndieBound
Place Saints: AmazonB & NBook DepositoryGoodReadsIndieBound

My Rating:

fourstars

 

Boxers and Saints are stories based off of the Chinese Boxer Rebellion. I was super interested in reading these graphic novels as this is a subject of history that I am not as familiar with.

Boxers

This story follows Little Bao and his journey to help protect Chinese villagers from the foreign missionaries and foreign soldiers that roam the countryside robbing and harming Chinese peasants. After meeting Red Lantern, a traveler who has wandered into his village, Little Bao learns the ways of Kung Fu–much to the teasing and dismay of his older brothers. Later he gains the powers of ancient Chinese gods who “take over” his body and help him fight soldiers attacking his village. From there him and his brother begin training others into a Boxer army and set out to fight for “the glory of China.” But along the way hundred are dying–not just foreigners, but comrades of Little Bao’s as well as Chinese who’ve converted to Christianity which Little Bao knows as the “secondary devils.” So while the Boxer rebellion fighters have become successful, at what cost comes this success?

Saints

Saints follows Four-Girl, the unwelcome fourth daughter of her family who wasn’t given a proper name because she was unwanted and apparently cursed. Later she finally finds an unlikely bond with a member of her village who is Christian. Within Christianity Four-Girl finally finds a place she believes she belongs–as well as a name, Vibiana. But China is not a safe place for Christians at the moment. Groups of young men are roaming the countryside killing Westerners and Chinese Christians alike. Throughout the story Vibian struggles with where her loyalties lie–with her country or with her faith. She even receives “visions” or “visits” from St. Joan of Arc (although she is a little unaware of who this person is). Soon she’s confronted with members of the Boxer Rebellion and she must decide if she’s wiling to die for her faith.

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Boxers & Saints 

The one thing I will definitely say about these two graphic novels is that they should both be read together. If you only read one of them I feel like you’re missing so much of the story. Each POV has it’s story and it’s message and I feel like you loose what the author was trying to demonstrate or impart if you only read one of the graphic novels.

Each story had me rooting for the main characters. I wanted them to find their way and find acceptances and themselves. But I also acknowledged their weakness. Little Bao got caught up in leading the Boxers and the rules he imparted on them. I felt like he lost himself within the “powers” of the god who inhabited him as well as in his need to feel that acceptance and favor from his family and his nation. Readers really get to see his struggles and both his growth and his non-growth. I felt Yang really wrote him authentically. Just like Little Bao, Vibian also had her strengths and weakness. She was able to grow by having the courage to leave her family that did not welcome her, but she also struggled with self-interest. I did not agree with all her actions, but she was growing up under tumultuous times. Overall, I found that Yang wrote really realistic characters. Both Little Bao and Vibian had flaws, had growths, but also had those same issues that all young adults go through–finding their place and their acceptance. This is what really allowed me to relate to these characters and sympathize for both of them.

I really loved how Yang wrote both sides of the story. The Boxer Rebellion was hard on both sides of the battle in China. So many unnecessary deaths seemed to have taken place. But I really appreciate that Yang wanted to tell both sides. It allowed me to understand where each side was coming from; to get the full picture and to sympathize with each side. Yang’s ability to do this with both stories is a true testament to his skill as a writer. I have definitely become a fan of his work.

I also loved that Yang used magical realism within these stories. This type of writing style really works for these stories. Having the ancient Chinese gods “take over” Little Bao and having Joan of Arc visit Vibian added to the internal struggles the two were dealing with as well as allowed certain liberties to be taken with the stories. I felt that these added elements enhanced the storytelling as well as the understanding of each story. Furthermore, I think it added to the cultural part of the stories as well.

The graphics part of the graphic novel were also tremendously well done. Boxers has a lot more color whereas Saints has a main gray color scheme with bursts of color. Its interesting to contemplate what these color choices mean for each story and then when thinking of both the stories as one. Lark Pien is listed as the one who did the color for both novels and I think he did a wonderful job. Again, Yang’s artistic ability was well suited to the graphic novels and the story being told as well as just being wonderful in general.

I do have to caution that these stories get pretty violent visually. Multiple battles scenes occur in these stories (more so in Boxers than in Saints). This might be off-putting for some readers, especially if they are younger. These are supposed to be intended for young adults, but I never like putting an age-range on a book if I don’t have to. With that said, it should be noted that the violence might not be suitable for some readers who are not ready for it. Then again, graphic novels seems to allow more of certain content then novels would for younger readers because of the format it tells the story in. I’ve noticed that graphic novels tend to get away with more when it comes to younger readers.

Lastly the one real qualm I had with the novels was really in Little Bao‘s story more so than in Vibians. Both characters don’t have strong parents or the parents are seen in a bad light, which seems on par with how teenagers tend to “see” or “rebel” against their parents. However, I just personally felt like Little Bao acted unkind to his father. His father acted depressed for most of the story because of something that happened to him. His father tended to sit by a window a lot and wouldn’t eat some days. Maybe it was the time period (1898) and the country/culture, but it still left me feeling a little angry and a little uncomfortable that Little Bao just ends up leaving his father (who clearly needs help) alone with no-one to really look after him. Ugh maybe because I just personally would never do that to my parents or grandparents, but that really hit hard for me. I didn’t like that Little Bao did that at all and it pushed me out of the story momentarily.

Otherwise, I really enjoyed these two graphic novels. They will definitely inspire history lovers to explore further information about the Boxer Rebellion and it might inspire non-history lovers as well. Both of these graphic novels were fast reads and entertaining and informing. Not only did they leave you questioning about the actions both characters took, but they also informed me of a time in history I wasn’t familiar with. I seriously enjoy Yang’s works and hope to read more of his in the future (I’ve also read The Eternal Smile). He definitely has master storytelling, especially in a graphic novel format.

 

  • Boxers and Saints by Gene Luen Yang follows Little Bao and his journey to help protect Chinese villagers from the foreign missionaries and foreign soldiers that roam the countryside robbing and harming Chinese peasants and Vibian the unwelcome fourth daughter of her family who wasn’t given a proper name because she was unwanted and apparently cursed. Little Bao later learns Kung Fu and helps start the Boxer Rebellion. Vibian finds an unlikely bond and place within Christianity. Both try to find their ways during this violent time in Chinese history.
  • The one thing I will definitely say about these two graphic novels is that they should both be read together. If you only read one of them I feel like you’re missing so much of the story.
  • Each story had me rooting for the main characters. I wanted them to find their way and find acceptances and themselves. But I also acknowledged their weakness.
  • I really appreciate that Yang wanted to tell both sides. It allowed me to understand where each side was coming from; to get the full picture and to sympathize with each side
  • I also loved that Yang used magical realism within these stories. This type of writing style really works for these stories. Having the ancient Chinese gods “take over” Little Bao and having Joan of Arc visit Vibian added to the internal struggles the two were dealing with as well as allowed certain liberties to be taken with the stories.
  • The graphics part of the graphic novel were also tremendously well done. Boxers has a lot more color whereas Saints has a main gray color scheme with bursts of color.
  • I do have to caution that these stories get pretty violent visually. Multiple battles scenes occur in these stories (more so in Boxers than in Saints). This might be off-putting for some readers, especially if they are younger.
  • 4 STARS each! I really enjoyed these two graphic novels. They will definitely inspire history lovers to explore further information about the Boxer Rebellion and it might inspire non-history lovers as well. Both of these graphic novels were fast reads and entertaining and informing. Not only did they leave you questioning about the actions both characters took, but they also informed me of a time in history I wasn’t familiar with.

 

Thanks for stopping by! Let me know if you’ve read Boxers or Saints or both! What did you think of both of the stories? What did you think of each of the characters–Little Bao and Vibian? How did you feel afterwards? Have you read anything else by Gene Luen Yang? Let me know in the comments below! I’d love to hear your thoughts on these two graphic novels! 

As always, Happy Reading!

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