Weekend Shorts: Boxers and Saints, by Gene Luen Yang

It feels a little strange writing a “shorts” post about two entire books, but, I mean, I read them both over the course of about two hours. Graphic novels are weird like that. These two books are sold as a boxed set and are companions to each other rather than a series; one tells of the Boxer Rebellion from the Boxer side and one from the Christian side, with the main character in each also showing up in the other book. I definitely recommend reading them one after the other, and probably in the boxed set order.

BoxersThis book tells the story of Little Bao, a regular kid with bossy older brothers who gets caught up in the rebellion when the Christians/foreigners/Chinese leaders (it turns out the Boxer Rebellion is super complicated) come to destroy his town. The other fighting-age boys train with a travelling martial arts master, but said master sends Little Bao off to meet an even stronger master who helps Little Bao harness the power of the Chinese gods to fight the invaders. Eventually he and his band of warriors take to the countryside and, um, kill everyone who does not stand with them, which is super not cool.

SaintsMeanwhile, a girl who is given the after-after-afterthought name of “Four-Girl” and who is unsurprisingly ignored by most of her family discovers Christianity in a way that I will not spoil and devotes herself to the religion and the people who practice it. Where Little Bao has his Chinese gods, the renamed Vibiana gets to hang out with Joan of Arc, which is way cooler, and she turns to Joan for guidance throughout the story. She works to protect her fellow Christians from the roaming terrorists but of course that doesn’t work out as planned for either side. Saints contains a bit of a coda to Boxers that probably won’t have the same impact if the books are read in the opposite order, but you can let me know if I’m wrong!

Both books provide a fantastic overview of this whole Boxer Rebellion thing that I know so little about, what with my established antipathy toward all things history. My knowledge is a lot better now that I’ve read these books and done some cursory Internet searches, so three thumbs up for learning things! I love that Yang shows “both” sides of the story, Boxer and Christian, but also shows that each side has its own good and bad guys and that history and life are super complicated.

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