I am a huge fan of Gene Luen Yang in every way. He brings new Chinese American tales to life with his deep characters and fun drawings. Even with the drawings being so simple, the passion is real and true. I should put a disclaimer on these graphic novels, by stating that if you are in a vulnerable mood you may even tear up during these stories; even men (yes, I am talking to you Dustin). Don’t worry though because the story is worth every bit of emotion. The novels are set up into two different novels; Boxers and Saints. Saints is the shorter of the two and follows a young girl that we eventually known as Vibiana. Boxers is about Bao. The two stories counteract each other in the Boxer Rebellion. The novel does a great job of giving you some inside looks into this Rebellion which took place in Ancient China. I would suggest doing some research on your own though. I did, and it opened some new doors for the novel, and it was interesting to say the least. A quick version tells of China divided among its people. The Society of Righteous and Harmonious Fist was a violent group who were against the Christian or Western movement taking place in China. On the other side, you had the Christians who wanted to bring their religion into the land, with lots of Chinese people taking ahold of the religion. So we have the Saints story or Vibiana wanting her Christian values to prevail, and Bao a leader of the Righteous and Harmonious Fist fighting for his people.
The story offers two different perspectives that I would like to quickly review separately. I will start with Saints, since I read that story first. Vibiana’s story is probably the more tragic of the two, but that could still be debatable for many readers. For me, it was. Her life starts hard right from birth as she is the first child of her mother’s to survive more than a year; sounds beautiful at first but just hold on. The family held off on naming the girl, but eventually Vibiana’s grandfather wouldn’t pick a name for she was born on the 4th day of the 4th month. In Chinese, fourth is a homonym for death. Vibiana tries her whole childhood to gain the approval of her grandfather. Once the whole family rejects her, she turns to Christian beliefs or more like the free place to live and free food to eat in order to regain herself. She at first has bad intentions about wanting to learn about this religion, and I believe slowly turns her heart into good intentions. Both stories have huge acts of magical realism. Vibiana’s being that she sees Joan of Arc and even speaks with her a bit. Vibiana’s story was easier to relate to probably because Bao kills people, and I have never been to war. Also, Vibiana is a girl, so it makes it easier to see her struggles. I loved everything about Saints, and totally think you can read this story without reading Boxers. It makes sense, and Bao’s character’s is well explained in the story when we see him. The ending is a tear jerking, and gives you so much respect towards the religion and the people who follow it. It is hard to keep your beliefs out of a text whether reading it or writing it, but Yang’s ultimate goal was a coming of age story for both books, and I felt nothing less than that happening at all moments.
Boxers was my second read. I am glad that I choose the order I did. When Vibiana comes into the play during the his story, I felt it was a little lost and needed Saints before understanding the huge impact Bao had at that moment in her life. Bao’s story is different, but still has that coming of age element that brings so much emotion in with the story. Surprise, his is a tragic story as well. Bao grows up being the little brother that is always picked on. He worships his ancestors and the traditions his culture holds. He becomes friends with a newly famous townsman called Red Lantern Chu. Red Lantern teaches Bao the ways of Kung Fu, and the ways of much more. When Red Lantern is killed by the foreign devils, Bao must now lead his group of men and brothers to become a violent force protecting their people. Bao and his brothers learn this ritual which turns them into great Chinese men from ancient times. Bao has no idea what person he turns into, but dreams of the answers he seeks. It is a great combination of history blended into this story. China has such a long history that is sometimes hard to grasp, but the fact that this group values this history and swears to protect it is courage in itself. Bao eventually finds out who the ancient is that he becomes. The ghost is a little extreme for Bao’s taste, and the two start to fight about the choices each other have made. This is where the story changes and you even think Bao becomes more sympathetic to the devils taking over his land. It is an interesting twist of tales.
Both books are just phenomenal graphic novels. The stories bring the Boxer Rebellion into new views not yet explored. Any book that can spark up a conversation or research on new knowledge about cultures is a winner to me. The novels will no doubt gain popularity with young and old readers. Yang brings out his best narrative thus far, mixing history with the never old struggle of discovering yourself. I can’t get enough of the books, and will probably read them again unveiling new history each time.
Score: 5/5 for Both Graphic Novels
Writer/Artist/Creator: Gene Luen Yang Publisher: First Second Books Price: $18.99 – Boxers, $15.99 – Saints Release Date: 9/10/13