Boxers & Saints

Book review by
Michael Berry, Common Sense Media
Boxers & Saints Book Poster Image
Exciting graphic-novel set is powerful historical fiction.

Parents say

age 12+
Based on 1 review

Kids say

age 12+
Based on 1 review

A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Boxers & Saints presents the Boxer Rebellion in China from two very different perspectives. Boxers recounts the events from the viewpoint of a young boy caught up in a revolution against foreign soldiers and missionaries who abuse the Chinese peasantry, while Saints follows a female convert to Christianity. Their individual stories are fictionalized, but author Gene Luen Yang takes great care to depict the historical aspects of his tale accurately.

Positive Messages

Boxers & Saints examines extremism, rebellion, and faith from a variety of angles. Many compelling questions are raised, but few simple answers are provided. In Boxers, Little Bao initially becomes interested in kung-fu to protect himself, his family, and his village. But his willingness to stand up for himself leads him to commit awful acts. Vibiana, in Saints, initially wants to be "bad" but gradually wants to commit to an extreme form of Christianity. Boxers & Saints shows how these two characters are similar and contains a plea for compassion, understanding, and nonviolence.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Bao and Vibiana, the young protagonists of Boxers & Saints, are fully committed to their individual causes, but each pays a price for his or her faith and extremism. Bao wants to protect his family village and learns kung-fu and leadership skills, until he is able to raise an army of rebels. At first, Vibiana does everything she can think of to be an ignored outcast, but after experiencing visions of Joan of Arc, she converts to Christianity. Both characters struggle to do what's right, but their beliefs will put them in direct opposition.

Violence

There's a large amount of violence in Boxers & Saints, which is entirely historically accurate. Early scenes depict beatings and bullying by local thugs and invading soldiers and the kung-fu training sessions they inspire. Gradually, the level of bloodshed rises, to the point where soldiers are decapitated, Bao's compatriots are shot and stabbed, and women and children are burned alive. Virtually none of the major characters emerges unscathed. The illustrator employs a style that de-emphasizes the bloodshed, with wounds and killing blows indicated by splashes of red.

Sex

There's very little sexual content in Boxers & Saints. In Boxers, Bao has a crush on Mei-wen, but their physical relationship does not extend far past holding hands. In Saints, Vibiana initially has thoughts of marrying Kong, but she eventually commits to being a "maiden warrior." Some superstitious peasants believe that foreigners drink menstrual blood and wave flags woven from pubic hair.

Language
Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

One minor supporting character is an opium addict.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Boxers & Saints is a set of two graphic novels by Gene Luen Yang (American Born Chinese), the first graphic novelist to be a finalist for the National Book Award and the first to win the American Library Association's Michael L. Printz Award, among other literary awards and honors. These graphic novels depict China's Boxer Rebellion from the viewpoints of two teen protagonists. Boxers follows Little Bao, who learns kung-fu fighting techniques and gradually gathers an army of peasants who rebel against foreign missionaries and solidiers. In Saints, a young outcast named Four-Girl, later to become Vibiana, embraces what she thinks of as deviltry but then converts to Christianity. Both characters struggle to do what's right, but their beliefs put them in direct opposition. Violence plays a major role in the books' most important scenes: everything from fistfights, shootings, stabbings, sword fights, and a decapitation to setting fire to a church filled with women and children. Author-illustrator Yang often portrays the violence obliquely or uses a cartoony style that softens the impact of bloody scenes. 

User Reviews

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Kid, 12 years old October 17, 2014
Boxers and Saints was amazing and well written. It's about the Boxer Rebellion in China, so there is a lot of historical content involved. There's ple... Continue reading

What's the story?

In Boxers, set in China in 1898, Little Bao wants to protect himself, his family and his village from the thugs, soldiers, and missionaries who harass them. He learns kung-fu, recruits an army of Boxers -- peasants trained in the martial arts -- and with the aid of the ancient gods, leads a grassroots rebellion that threatens the entire empire. Meanwhile in Saints, Four-Girl, feeling unwanted and unwelcome in her family, revels in being bad, until she begins to learn about Christianity. In the church, she's given a new name, Vibiana, and experiences visions of Joan of Arc that confirm her belief in her own righteousness. The paths of Bao and Vibiana eventually intersect, with harrowing results.

Is it any good?

BOXERS & SAINTS is an extremely well-crafted and exciting set of graphic novels, focused on a historical period not well known in the United States. Through the parallel stories of two teens caught up on opposite sides of China's Boxer Rebellion of 1899-1900, writer/illustrator Gene Luen Yang incisively explores questions of faith, extremism, patriotism, and self-reliance, without offering any simplistic answers.

The cast of each volume is well defined, with each character recognizable not only by how they are drawn but also by how they act and speak. Boxers & Saints is powerful historical fiction, full of compelling incidents and multidimensional characters, and Yang treats his subject with clarity, conviction, and style.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the challenges of presenting history in a graphic novel. Are there things words and pictures can do together that words alone cannot? What other graphic novels have you read? 

  • Is violence the best method of resisting oppression? Are there others way to stand up for your rights without bloodshed?

  • How can religion enrich people's lives? How can it be used to oppress them?

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