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Boxers & Saints Boxed Set Paperback – September 10, 2013
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“A masterful work of historical fiction that happens to be in the form of a graphic novel, and a very accessible view into a complicated moment in Chinese history.” ―Dave Eggers
“In Boxers and Saints, Gene Luen Yang once again masterfully draws us into the most difficult issues of self-identity and communal understanding, with characters who struggle to act out of their deepest cultural and spiritual selves. But when they find that their commitments lead them in terrible, frightening directions--one toward massacres, another toward martyrdom--they must ask questions for which there are no easy answers. The brilliance of this novel--and I mean, aside from the brilliance in the telling of a major historical episode about which most North Americans know very little and which provides some critical lessons in political relationships--the brilliance lies in the merger of fast action and humor and very real characters and startling graphics with a shattering sense of the brokenness of the world and our terrible need for compassion. Read this, and come away shaking.” ―National Book Award Finalist and Newbery Honor winner Gary Schmidt, author of Okay for Now and The Wednesday Wars
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The shipping for this product was fast (granted, I do have Prime).
Okay, now to the meat. "Boxers" is the story of a young Chinese boy who becomes incensed at how Christians have invaded China and begun to despoil both Chinese culture and the Chinese people. So he learns how to invoke the gods of China to fight back. "Saints", on the other hand, is the story of a young Chinese girl, terribly abused by her family, who finds comfort in Christianity, converts, and -- spurred on by visions of Joan of Arc -- wishes to fight back against the Boxers. The stories are great counterpoints to each other, containing many humanizing touches that make you feel you are reading about real people, not archetypes. The artwork is very clean and readable, and sophisticated in its storytelling, proving against the modern wave of hyper-detailed comic book art that sometimes less is more.
Bao makes many tough decisions when leading the group, and as with any battle, many lives are lost on both sides. At times I understood his decisions and others I felt he was being cruel - but that's the point in a situation like this and he felt very human. I will say I have no foreknowledge of the Boxer rebellion, so I took everything at face value and just enjoyed the heartbreaking story of a boy going off to war for his country.
I love the artwork as well. There is really no shading, but the detail and colors of the opera gods' clothing is wonderful to look at - especially against the muted tones of the landscape and villagers clothing. The paper is nice and thick too, very smooth and gives the book some weight.
Obviously with a graphic novel there's more seeing than reading, but I still felt that I was experiencing a full story. I flew through this and can't wait to read it's counterpart -Saints. I'm not quite sure how old Bao is but I'd probably recommend this book for anyone 12+ depending on their maturity level, as it does contain violence and death.
Saints details the other side of the Boxer rebellion from Four-Girl's point of view. She's an outcast in her family who eventually converts to the Christian faith in an effort to add meaning to her life and figure out her purpose. Eventually this book crosses paths with the ending of Boxers.
I gave this book a slightly lower rating than Boxers because I just didn't connect with FG the way I did with Bao. She did spend a lot of her time figuring out what she wanted to do in life, which is true for many teens (and adults) no matter their circumstances - yet she didn't feel genuine. Without revealing too much of the plot, I feel her conversion to the Christian faith was half hearted, and as a result the ending of the book left me puzzled.
But overall, another great story, seen from the other point of view. Some other new characters are introduced, including Joan of Arc! More beautiful artwork and another touching story. I love to read books that really make me feel something and the Boxers and Saints collection did just that. I recommend both books (you simply can't just read one!) to pretty much everyone. Again, there's violence so maybe not for younger audiences, but around 12+
The train scene in Boxers was tough to swallow. I was not entirely surprised, but still disappointed to see how far Bao had gone from the fun, light-hearted kid we first met. Apparently that scene was also difficult for Bao himself to come to terms with, hence the missionaries daughter haunting him until they met once again. Arguably the most critical moment was when Bao readily accepted Ch'in Shih-huang's mercilessness in slaughtering Chinese Christians. Bao killing Vibiana (the girl with a "face like an opera mask") was the proverbial final straw, culminating in the church-burning. Eventually that mercilessness results in he and his compatriots' deaths on the rubble of the library in Peking. The loss of innocence in this story is disturbing.
On the other hand, Saints has quite the opposite effect. Four-girl's transformation into Vibiana is the polar opposite to Boa's transformation in Boxers. I thought it was cleverly ironic that Four-girl's path to becoming a better "devil" was through religion. The color in the artwork was much duller than Boxers, and I could not figure out why, as it seems like it would have made more sense reversed. One thing I found intriguing was how there was no distinctive appearance differences between the rebels and the Chinese Christian converts when they had their big battle in Peking, unlike Boxers. They all blended together. The major overarching theme I picked up on was just how essential finding, and defending, one's purpose and beliefs is. The duality of the story was something I had not seen, and I loved it.