Boxers and Saints - I'm not even attempting to seperate these two; read them both or neither

Boxers - Gene Luen Yang Saints - Gene Luen Yang

There are very few authors I will actively seek out, often the subject of the book has far more to do with my wish to read over who wrote it. As with many things, there are exceptions: Jasper Fforde, Laurie R. King (though I don't particularly care for her non-Mary Russell books), and Agatha Christie are a few. A new one, however, is Gene Luen Yang. I was first introduced to his Graphic Novel works by his award-winning American Born Chinese, and if you are thinking about trying graphic novels but think of them as nothing more then superheroes in tights, READ THAT BOOK! I can't express it enough; the way Yang writes/draws only works with the graphic novel format and takes the reader into a deeper understanding and emotional reaction because of this.


I partially bought Avatar: The Promise graphic novel because he wrote it, and I keep an eye on for anything with Yang's name on it. I was slightly upset, however, that he didn't draw that as well, as I love his drawing style. It is both simple and yet highly detailed when it needs to be. This series, however, I wasn't sure I would be interested in, as I have almost zero knowledge of the historical event around the story.


Once again, Yang has written a compelling story that gets to the heart of the people he chooses to focus on and through them, the larger issues involved. Each book focuses on one main character, though both of the main characters, as well as many minor characters show up in both.


Through Bao we see the rise of the rebellion, how they saw themselves, and both the good and the bad they did. As he did in American Born Chinese, he uses mythology and culture from China to further the reader's understanding and give an almost supernatural element to the story. As Mei-wen, the main female protagonist says: "What is China but a people and their stories." (p. 312) So the Brother-Disciplines become figures from their Operas, historical and mythical figures who fight for China.


Through Vibiana (for Four-Girl, four connected to the Chinese word for death. Four is their number 13), we see the Christian side, not from a Westerner's point of view, but a young Chinese girl. She too has a connection to the supernatural, she has many visits throughout the book from a young girl in metal clothes who she discovers to be Joan of Arc. She finds a family with the missionaries and ultimately has to chose between life and her faith. Her final interaction with her killer is, in my opinion, moving.


However, I felt keenly my lack of knowledge about the subject. The author/illustrator does give you a list of books at the end to further your knowledge and there are a few I'd like to take a look at. This is also a book that will mean something quite different to everyone who reads it, as they will bring their own point of view to the table. Yang does not, I feel, praise either nor does he attack either. I have an issue with this knew way of writing history that gives both sides and never takes a stance but in this case, I feel that it works (not often the case in my opinion). I would have liked to see more through Vibiana's eyes; that section seems smaller both in page length and narrative, but with so much interaction between the two books, the information is there.


In the end, Gene Luen Yang shows people and people are always complicated.