A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
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.
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?
- Author: Gene Luen Yang
- Illustrator: Gene Luen Yang
- Genre: History
- Topics: Magic and Fantasy, Sports and Martial Arts, Brothers and Sisters, History, Misfits and Underdogs
- Book type: Fiction
- Publisher: First Second
- Publication date: September 10, 2013
- Publisher's recommended age(s): 12 - 17
- Number of pages: 512
- Available on: Paperback, Nook, iBooks, Kindle
- Last updated: November 4, 2019
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