Graphic Novel Review: Boxers & Saints

Boxers by Gene Luen Yang

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I was enthralled by this first graphic novel in the duet! It’s incredible how, despite the violent and serious nature of the story, there is still humor and friendship and family. All the good things of life are entwined with the horrifying circumstances of the Boxer Rebellion.

Little Bao is an ordinary youngest son being picked on by his older brothers, but when his father is beaten by “foreign devils” and his village is cheated by the Christian Chinese, little Bao learns to fight and begins a journey seeking for justice and revenge.

With the help of the magical Chinese gods and heroes of the past, Little Bao and his brothers raise an army to protect the country villages, but circumstances push them to larger fights until Bao loses control of the movement he helped to start. He must choose to cling to the ideals of his teachers, or follow the gods in their merciless ambitions for China.
It’s definitely an operatic tragedy, since Little Bao loses everything and everyone he ever cared about.

Sometimes I liked Little Bao, whenever he was having a normal moment; conversing with a friend, enjoying a cup of tea, flirting with a girl, learning from his teacher, or admiring his father.
But most of the time, I did not like Bao at all. He always seems to be making bad decisions; violent and destructive decisions.

I definitely appreciated how Bao started out trying to do good, and the circumstances pushed him into doing evil. Other people put pressure on him, and the gods and heroes haunt him to make the same decisions they made in Chinese history, and poor Bao is caught in the middle.

Eventually he becomes convinced that he IS doing good when he acts destructively. He believes that he is doing what is best for his nation, and that spurs him to murder children, set fire to cities, and destroy priceless books. All his actions fall back on him though, and his own losses are directly connected to his decisions to destroy others. That was truly brilliant writing!

Plot is fast-paced and intricate. Artwork is gorgeous! Characters are everything they should be- interesting, varied, deep, relatable, and of course beautifully complex.
I love it!

Saints by Gene Luen Yang

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

She is born the fourth girl in her Chinese family, and since her grandfather refuses to give her a name, she is called simply Four-Girl. When she is awkward or misbehaves, her family call her a devil, so Four-Girl goes to the foreign devils to find companionship and becomes a Christian.

As Four-Girl searches for her identity within Christian culture, she has visions of Joan of Arc, who appears to her to guide and encourage her in the faith. Four-Girl knows that she must find a calling, and learning the story of Joan helps Four-Girl to realize her purpose. She takes on a new Christian name, Vibiana, and fashions a life for herself with the Christians.

I really liked Four-Girl’s character! She’s curious and loud-mouthed, always asking questions and saying the wrong thing. She is impulsive and weird. She’s very serious about serious things and gets frustrated that people don’t take her seriously.
She wants to fight battles to protect her friends, but she comes to understand that there are more important things that violence and destruction can never touch. Her gradual journey to understand her new faith, and her discovery of the love of Christ was very touching.

I was interested to see that the Christians were not perfect good guys. They made mistakes and didn’t show much wisdom. Most of their problem with the Chinese were all misunderstandings and rumor, and some criminals who used the Christian name as a political tool to con people. Both sides, Boxers and Christians, were ignorant and foolish, and judged whole people groups by the actions of a few. There’s a historical commentary in there somewhere about repeating mistakes from the past.

I loved how Four-Girl’s story entwined with Little Bao’s story from Boxers. Especially at the end, everything came together beautifully and tragically. Brilliant writing, beautiful artwork, and an entrancing story!

View all my reviews


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