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4.7 out of 5 stars
Boxers & Saints Boxed Set
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19 of 19 people found the following review helpful
on September 10, 2013
Format: Paperback
Even though Boxers & Saints has been published as two separate books, they really do need to be read together to get the complete story. Which is why I'm reviewing both books together.

The year is 1898. The place is China. Once closed off to the rest of the world, foreign missionaries and soldiers have taken to roaming the countryside to bully, rob, and convert the Chinese people. There are those that wish to stand up to them, but how? The foreigners have guns and power on their side. And then...Little Bao stands up. He has learned to harness the power of the ancient Chinese gods, and he recruits an army of Boxers - common people trained in Kung Fu, who use the power of the ancient gods to free China from those "foreign devils." And lo and behold it works! They begin winning violent battles against the foreign soldiers. But there is a cost to their victory. Death. Death of those "foreign devils" and death of Chinese citizens who have converted to Christianity.
On the other side of the coin of the Boxers...are the Saints. Chinese Christians who want to make a better life for themselves, but are torn between their nation and their faith. One such Saint is an unwanted fourth daughter, Four-Girl, who is never even given a real name by her family. Instead she finds both a name, Vibiana, and a family with a local Christian missionary. She begins having visions of Joan of Arc, who attempts to guide her down the path of righteousness. But the Boxer Rebellion is coming...and Vibiana will soon have to decide whether she will be Chinese or Christian.

Much like in American Born Chinese, Gene Yang weaves two different powerful stories together to create one amazing story. In this collection, each story represents a different side of the coin. On one side you have Little Bao and the past traditions of China and it's culture. On the other side you have Vibiana and the Chinese Christians, representing a possible future for the country, one that scares many. When the story begins this coin is doing a delicate balancing act, with neither side overwhelming the other. But soon...things begin to tip and sway one way and the other. First the Christian missionaries begin to rob and bully the Chinese around them. And then the coin swivels and the Boxers appear, ready to take back their own land. By the end of the book...well you'll have to read it to see what happens.

What I like about this collection is that the books work well together to form a history of a time period that many in the Western part of the world are probably not familiar with and it's written for all ages to understand. Even more so, Gene writes the story so that we understand the horrors committed by both sides of the conflict. Gene takes care to show that while both sides had valid arguments, their methods and ways of getting what they wanted were becoming increasingly violent and splintered as strong people in each group began adding their own meanings to what they saw. While this is likely to make some folks uncomfortable, it is necessary to understand the whole of the conflict. Gene does an excellent job of ensuring that we, as readers, are able to question both sides of the conflict.

Gene brings his typical, wonderful, art style to this collection. His bright, rich colors, strong lines, and shading create characters that leap off the page, especially in the Boxers book. This is in particular noticeable when we see the ancient Chinese gods wearing theatrical costumes as they do battle. It helps make this time period in history come to life a little bit more. What is even more remarkable though about the artwork for these two books is when you contrast Boxers with Saints. Boxers is all about the bright colors. Saints...is more muted. Brown and dust inhabit the pages, except when we see the specters of Joan of Arc who is brightly colored. It presents a very different view of the characters of these two volumes...one that you'll have to read to see.

My one regret about these two books, is that I would have loved to have an afterward, one that gave a bit more information about the influences of creation of the books. But that is neither here nor there. Overall this is an excellent two volume set and I would highly recommend it for all libraries and all ages. I give both books 5 out of 5 stars.

ARC provided by Gina at FirstSecond
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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on September 23, 2013
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
I finished the second book this morning and I am still an emotional wreck. Yang has officially passed into another plane of storytelling. Those who know his work well are used to Yang's subtle approach to difficult topics like radical forgiveness, cultural identity and cultural shame, and even social Darwinism, eugenics, and child abuse, all with a wry sense of humor and empathy. His work also often reflects the ways in which ordinary people grapple with and through faith in the midst of personal crisis. "Boxers" and "Saints" are no different in one sense, but this story has a fundamental difference: the stakes are so much higher, and the outcome, potentially so much more disastrous. The characters seem trapped by decisions and consequences which, once they start rolling, spin entirely out of their control.

What Yang gives us in each book is a separate portrait of two young people from similar circumstances who take dramatically different paths to finding a coherent identity and a sense of justice. Through their interwoven stories, Yang takes each one through a series of extremely difficult questions about the origins of religious and political extremism, how even good people with noble ideas can cause unspeakable damage, the horrors of imperialism, and the ways in which the various Christian mission movements were problematically tied to the imperialists. Yang takes no sides and does not moralize about the events of the Boxer rebellion, just a profound sadness for their plight and his ever-present deep, deep empathy. And that is precisely what makes these novels so devastating.

Yang explores in gut-wrenching detail the ways in which each person's unique experiences shape the ways in which they react to political and cultural upheaval. Little Bao, the protagonist of "Boxers," suddenly feels his mostly-idyllic way of life shattered by the arrival of foreign missionaries and British troops. Vibiana, the protagonist of "Saints," is an unwanted child who lacks a even a proper name or a place in her granfather's household, and so the arrival of the "foreign devils" provides something else entirely. Both Bao and Vibiana are given an opportunity for open rebellion, but in different ways, and they each follow those convictions down to their explosive conclusion.

For those who love Yang's incorporation of folklore and imagination into a real-life landscape, these books are a feast. He uses a rich backdrop of both Chinese opera and Christian hagiography to create a multi-textured story, just as he did with the tales of the Monkey King in "American Born Chinese."

Trust me-- just get both books. These are meant to be read as two different movements of the same work, and you will miss out on so much the counterpoint in each story if you don't. While they can probably be read in either order, definitely save the "Epilogue" in "Saints" for last.

That epilogue, however, is sure to cause what I hope will be some healthy, productive disagreement about the nature of justice and mercy, and I can't wait to see what others have to say about it.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on October 30, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition
Boxers & Saints is an incredibly powerful piece of historical fiction told in the format of a graphic novel. The illustrations are potent and the story is heartbreaking. There are no winners; only losers. It is a story of revenge and intolerance. Gene Luen Yang has written an amazing novel that you will not forget.

The images in both books tell a very strong story. At times, it is very graphic where I suck in my breath as I see the next image. Yang depicted all the intolerance of the Boxer Rebellion from the Chinese and Christians alike. I found myself getting angry at both sides. I found no heroes; only villains and victims. War is horrific and Mr. Yang captured it with his words and illustrations. Just so very powerful!

As I read more graphic novels, I'm finding that they tell amazing stories and are a great medium for historical fiction. The use of vivid colors and graphic illustrations really bring a story to life. I enjoy looking at an author's vision of a certain piece in history; in this case, The Boxer Rebellion. I knew very little about it. From this book, I really didn't names, dates or place; instead I learned about love, hate, faith and loyalty. Those are true emotions of war and were depicted in a way that penetrates your mind and definitely leaves a permanent mark.

Boxers & Saints is a wonderful graphic novel that needs to be read and appreciated for a great work of historical fiction.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on March 28, 2014
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
I didn't read these. They were recommended by our librarian who kinda knows my grandson's taste in books. I looked at the artwork, which I thought was pretty decent, and put in the hands of a nine year old graphic novel enthusiast. He read both of them by the next day and wanted to know if there were any more. I'll pick reading over video games and tv any day!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on October 25, 2014
Format: Paperback
WHAT IS IT ABOUT?

Gene Luen Yang’s “Boxers & Saints” is a two-volume graphic novel about The Boxer Rebellion in China at the turn of the 20th century. Although each book can be read as standalone, they work best as a set because they tell parallel stories of two Chinese bumpkins caught up on opposite sides of the same war.

The first volume, “Boxers,” follows Little Bao, a poor Chinese village boy who grows up witnessing foreign soldiers and missionaries bully, rob and kill Chinese peasants. With the help of ancient Chinese gods, Bao starts a rebellion in order to rid China of “foreign devils” and their allies “secondary devils,” Chinese converts to Christianity. The second book, “Saints,” tells a story of Four-Girl, a poor Chinese village girl who feels unwanted and unloved by her family. Unexpectedly, Four-Girl finds refuge among Chinese Christians and, guided by the spirit of French heroine Joan of Arc, becomes Christian herself.

THUMBS UP:

1) Aim high, score high.
Although Yang’s project is very ambitious, it is executed flawlessly. The story is thoroughly researched and carefully thought-out, the presentation is impressively creative, the artwork is, as always, superb, and the characters are multidimensional and relatable.

2) Entertaining and educational.
“Boxers & Saints” is both an engaging magical realism story and a thought provoking interpretation of the motives behind a significant historical event, The Boxer Rebellion (which I knew nothing about!).

3) Perfect format.
Yang’s decision to divide this original story into two parallel stories is ingenious. By telling two different sides of the same story the author allows the reader to understand the war and its motives from the opposing perspectives. But more importantly, such division enables the author to remain objective because there is no need to favor, judge or justify either side. And in this case it is the author’s objectivity that makes the whole story so powerful.

VERDICT:

Gene Luen Yang’s “Boxers & Saints” is a unique look at a significant event in the history of China - The Boxer Rebellion as it is seen from two opposing camps. Such a serious topic together with the author’s creativity, talent and effort put into researching results in a very appealing sort of read: both entertaining and educational.

POST SCRIPTUM:

Although I find Gene Luen Yang’s “Boxers & Saints” entertaining and thought provoking, it is also quite violent and dark, and thus, I personally prefer his earlier graphic novel “American Born Chinese,” which is much more uplifting and hilarious.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on January 30, 2015
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
Boxers is really quite insidious. It essentially makes you think you're following a traditional protagonist, but things get more and more morally complex over time. It really illustrates the dangers of ideologies, and while it's about events that happened over 100 years ago, it feels incredibly relevant given the issues with terrorism and revolutionary movements in the world today.

Sadly, the story in Saints is not as well fleshed out, partly I guess because it follows a character who is far less complex. I feel like Yang picked the wrong dichotomy. It would've been much more interesting to follow one of the Europeans. (As it was, the one European priest side character's story was simplistic and not nearly up to the standards of _Boxer_.)

I have to admit, too, that while Boxers felt like it was exploring all sides, with Saints I felt a distinctly pro-Christianity bent, so much so that afterward, I looked into the author's background and was not surprised to find that he's Catholic (or at least grew up so). So I can see why he chose that perspective, but it was just less interesting to me.

But again, note that, despite these issues, Boxers is an absolute must-read, thus the 4 stars. :)
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on September 22, 2013
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
PROS:
- While the storyline is simple and easy to follow (finished both novels in about 2 hours), the details still introduced the complexities behind the Boxer Rebellion.
- I purchased the box set and recommend readers to do so as well. It's like having a peanut butter and jelly sandwich; you can't fully enjoy one without the other.
- I'm no expert in Chinese studies but I do notice and appreciate the extent he puts in the details behind his works. For instance he uses the Wade-Giles system for romanizing Mandarin Chinese instead of the Pinyin because WG was used until the mid-20th century.
- Recommended readings on the Boxer Rebellion at the end of each graphic novel.
- Great way to introduce an important yet sometimes overlooked history to a younger audience.
-**It is slightly graphic ( decapitated body parts, "bloody" scenes).

MEH's:
- The "Yin" concept was a bit weak compared to the other themes explored but meh, I get it. You can't talk about China without ostracizing women.

Also, let me just put it out there that I really appreciate Yang's unique presentation on this piece of history without the academic jargon (seriously). No single line spaced papers with 1-inch margins. Thank you very much.

Great job.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Format: Paperback
I reserve my 5 star ratings for books I'd read again if I had to start this life over from scratch. These two are such books.

Gene does an excellent job of showing two perspectives of the same historical event compassionately and poignantly. He doesn't pull any punches or cheat by pulling on heartstrings. These are real characters with real faults, and even the bad guys in one book are the good guys in the other with no distortion to their character.

Characters grow, question, change, live, and die.

Not only will you not be able to put your book down, you will walk away wanting to know more--about history and the fates of the characters.

That's really the best you could hope for from books like this.

Masterful storytelling. More comics like this, please.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on October 13, 2013
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
Need to preface this review by stating I'm very partial this writer. Story is able to personalize a section of history that is not readily available to many youths in todays western society, It addresses, in an effective and historical manner the duality of identity of many Asian Americans born and/or partially raised in the US. The violence is muted and the drug issues were glossed over probably to allow all family members to enjoy.

Really good stuff...Highly recommended for both fans of Asian -American culture and Graphic novels!!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on February 13, 2014
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
Very impressive storytelling and evocative artwork, which beautifully convey many conflicting points of view. It is a shame that more folks aren't familiar with the history behind the narrative, but I hope this graphic novel will help educate and inspire people to read more about the Boxer Rebellion. I highly recommend Diana Preston's book which is entitled "The Boxer Rebellion" and Jonathan Spence's "God's Chinese Son."
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