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Boxers & Saints is an innovative new graphic novel in two volumes—the parallel stories of two young people caught up on opposite sides of a violent rift. American Born Chinese author Gene Luen Yang brings his clear-eyed storytelling and trademark magical realism to the complexities of the Boxer Rebellion and lays bare the foundations of extremism, rebellion, and faith.
Discover the other side of the Boxer Rebellion in Saints—the companion volume to Boxers.
"A masterful work of historical fiction that happens to be in the form of a graphic novel, and a very accessible view into a complicated moment in Chinese history."—Dave Eggers
"In Boxers and Saints, Gene Luen Yang once again masterfully draws us into the most difficult issues of self-identity and communal understanding, with characters who struggle to act out of their deepest cultural and spiritual selves. But when they find that their commitments lead them in terrible, frightening directions—one toward massacres, another toward martyrdom—they must ask questions for which there are no easy answers. The brilliance of this novel—and I mean, aside from the brilliance in the telling of a major historical episode about which most North Americans know very little and which provides some critical lessons in political relationships—the brilliance lies in the merger of fast action and humor and very real characters and startling graphics with a shattering sense of the brokenness of the world and our terrible need for compassion. Read this, and come away shaking."—National Book Award Finalist and Newbery Honor winner Gary Schmidt, author of Okay for Now and The Wednesday Wars
"Yang’s latest graphic novels are a 'diptych' of books set during China’s Boxer Rebellion of the early twentieth century. Boxers follows Little Bao, a village boy with an affinity for opera; Saints centers on Four-Girl, an unloved and unwanted child who perfects a revolting 'devil-face' expression. They meet fleetingly as children, foreshadowing their respective roles in the conflict to come. Little Bao, with the help of an eccentric kung fu master, learns to harness the power of ancient gods, forming the Society of the Righteous and Harmonious Fist in an attempt to rid China of the 'foreign devils' who spread Christianity across the country. Four-Girl sits squarely on the other side of the rebellion. After repeat visits from Joan of Arc in mystic visions, Four-Girl comes to the conclusion that she, too, is destined to become a maiden warrior. She converts to Christianity, takes the name Vibiana, and strives to protect China against the Little Bao–led uprising. The inevitable showdown between the two characters leads to a surprising and bleak conclusion . . . Yang’s characteristic infusions of magical realism, bursts of humor, and distinctively drawn characters are present in both books, which together make for a compelling read."—Sam Bloom, The Horn Book (starred review)
"Printz Award winner Yang's ambitious two-volume graphic novel [including Boxers and Saints] follows the intertwined lives of two young people on opposite sides of the turn-of-the-20th-century Boxer Rebellion. Little Bao, whose story is told in Boxers, grows up fascinated by the opera's colorful traditional tales and filled with reverence for the local deities. Appalled by the arrogant behavior of foreign soldiers, Christian missionaries and their Chinese supporters, he eventually becomes a leader of the Society of the Righteous and Harmonious Fist, fighting under the slogan 'Support the Ch'ing! Destroy the Foreigner!' The protagonist of Saints—an unlucky, unwanted, unnamed fourth daughter—is known only as Four-Girl until she's christened Vibiana upon her conversion to Catholicism. Beaten by her family for her beliefs, she finds refuge and friendship with foreign missionaries, making herself a target for the Boxers. Scrupulously researched, the narratives make a violent conflict rarely studied in U.S. schools feel immediate, as Yang balances historical detail with humor and magical realism. Ch'in Shih-huang, the first emperor of China, and Joan of Arc serve as Bao's and Vibiana's respective spiritual guides; the rich hues of the protagonists' visions, provided by colorist Lark Pien, contrast effectively with the muted earth tones of their everyday lives. The restrained script often, and wisely, lets Yang's clear, clean art speak for itself. This tour de force fearlessly asks big questions about culture, faith, and identity and refuses to offer simple answers."—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
"In American Born Chinese, Yang spoke to the culture clash of Chinese American teen life. In Boxers—the first volume in a two-book set, concluding with Saints—about the Boxer Rebellion at the end of the nineteenth century in China, he looses twin voices in harmony and dissonance from opposite sides of the bloody conflict. Boxers follows a young man nicknamed Little Bao, who reacts to religious and cultural oppression by leading the uprising from the provinces to Peking, slaughtering 'foreign devils' and soldiers along the way. Between the two books, Yang ties tangled knots of empathy where the heroes of one become the monsters of the other. Little Bao and his foil from Saints, Four-Girl, are drawn by the same fundamental impulses—for community, family, faith, tradition, purpose—and their stories reflect the inner torture that comes when those things are threatened. Yang is in superb form here, arranging numerous touch points of ideological complexity and deeply plumbing his characters’ points of view. And in an homage to the driving power of stories themselves, Bao is captivated by visions sprung from lore: the spirits he believes possess him and his fighters. Much blood is spilled as Little Bao marches toward his grim fate, which is even more unsettling given that Yang hasn’t fundamentally altered his squeaky clean, cartoonishly approachable visual style. A poignant, powerhouse work of historical fiction from one of our finest graphic storytellers."—Ian Chipman, Booklist (starred review)
"Acclaimed graphic novelist Yang brings his talents to historical fiction in [Boxers and Saints], paired novels set during China's Boxer Rebellion. In Boxers, life in Little Bao's peaceful rural village is disrupted when 'foreign devils'—a priest and his phalanx of soldiers—arrive. The foreigners behave with astonishing arrogance, smashing the village god, appropriating property, and administering vicious beatings for no reason. Little Bao and his older brothers train in kung fu and swordplay in order to defend against them, and when Little Bao learns how to tap into the power of the Chinese gods, he becomes the leader of a peasant army, eventually marching to Beijing. Saints follows a lonely girl from a neighboring village. Unwanted by her family, Four-Girl isn't even given a proper name until she converts to Catholicism and is baptized—by the very same priest who bullies Little Bao's village. Four-Girl, now known as Vibiana, leaves home and finds fulfillment in service to the Church, while Little Bao roams the countryside committing acts of increasing violence as his army grows. Mysticism plays a part in both stories, and Yang's spare, clean drawing style makes it clear that Vibiana's visits from Joan of Arc and Bao's invocation of the powerful Chinese gods are very real to these characters. The juxtaposition of these opposing points of view, both of them sympathetic, makes for powerful, thought-provoking storytelling about a historical period that is not well known in the West."—Paula Willey, Baltimore County Public Library, Towson, Maryland, School Library Journal (starred review)
"With a superbly executed 'diptych' of graphic novels, Yang employs parallel storylines to represent two opposing Chinese experiences during the Boxer Rebellion at the turn of the 20th century. Raised in an impoverished rural village, Little Bao and his older brothers embark on a crusade to save China from Christian missionaries and other 'foreign devils' who are perceived to be the cause of their country’s woes. What begins as a righteous march to the capital, bolstered by Little Bao’s recurring visions of a pantheon of Chinese gods, quickly escalates in violence and rhetoric. By the time Little Bao and his amassed army, dubbed the Society of the Righteous and Harmonious Fist, reach the occupied city of Peking, morale is strained and the line between right and wrong has blurred. Yang doesn’t shy from the ensuing bloodshed (beheadings are not uncommon), yet moments of lightheartedness and potential romance humanize the combatants, even as their campaigns take on zealous dimensions. Yang’s artwork and storytelling are sober and accessible, and his character-driven approach brings compassion to a complex historical clash."—Publishers Weekly (starred review)