Thursday, December 26, 2013

Boxers and Saints by Gene Luen Yang YP FIC YANG

Boxers- Little Bao was happy with his simple life in his small village, but when foreign missionaries smash the harvest idol it leads to a path of destruction for his family.  A strange man come to town that teaches the ways of kung fu, he becomes his disciple and later the student of the man's master.  He learns the skills to drawn in spirits and gods to become invincible warriors.  They realize they must drive out the foreign influence that is killing their nation and kill any, including women and children, that stand in their way. 

Saints- Four-Girl.  She doesn't even get a name. Born fourth means born unlucky. Four means death, so when she meets a strange doctor that gives free cookies and tells her that a Christian church will giver her a new name, she jumps at the chance.  She is reborn as Vibiana, but that rebirth marks her for death. Her visions of Joan of Arc make her want her own calling, but what will it be and will it call for her to suffer the same fate as Joan? The Boxers are slaying Christians wherever they find them and she has put herself right in their path.

This is a brilliant look at cost of war, violence, and oppression.  It makes no excuses for the atrocities on either side, while populating the book with all too human characters.  Little Bao is driven by heartbreak, desperation, patriotism, and hope.  Unfortunately, he is driven to commit atrocities against innocent people.  Vibiana is driven to find some sort of destiny after being born cursed.  Her early attempts to be a devil are one of my favorite parts of the whole story, as are the young Little Bao's love of Chinese opera.  It was very hard to follow Little Bao down a path of darkness and watch him continually betray his own principles. It was hard to watch Vibiana blindly head straight to her own destruction, but in crossing paths they find a way for the death to actually have some meaning, if only for one person. This story of childhood to adulthood makes the death and murder that comes later all the more tragic.  Yang has taken a very tricky historical period and looked at it on a human level.  He populates the book with various characters of Chinese culture and Christian culture, never questioning their 'reality'.  This makes the book a work of not just warring people, nations, and ideas, but of the power and dangers of stories themselves.  The book offers no clear heroes and few clear villains, it also offers no easy answers.  It does ask very good questions.  I think it will lead most readers to seek out more information on the Boxer rebellion and Chinese history, which is always a great thing.  Even if it doesn't, it stands by itself as a powerful example of what comics can do.

You can find Boxer in our catalog here and Saints in our catalog here.

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