by Gina Chaimanis
Set during the Boxer Rebellion in 1890s China, Boxers and Saints by Gene Luen Yang is composed in a two volume graphic novel boxed set and is a jarring experience in duality. Boxers follows the point of view of Little Bao, a young man entranced by the noble allure of combatant rebels, and Saints is told from the viewpoint of Four-Girl, an outcast who finds comfort in the company of Christian missionaries. Though their life choices seem vastly different, both Little Bao and Four-Girl share many common experiences that take the reader off guard. The development of each character further surprises the reader as one is persuaded to feel sympathy for seemingly unforgivable acts.
As he did so well in American Born Chinese, Yang validates the coming of age experience by craftily revealing how the challenges and joys of growing up are a microcosm of the world these young characters live in. In both graphic novels, this is an emotional tale of the difficulty that universally ensues when young people grow up. Yet it is also a stark political commentary of how violent change can break down family, culture and identity.
While composed in a highly symbolic style similar to American Born Chinese, the plot also reminds one of dystopian YA literature popular today, such as The Hunger Games. I recommend this book for anyone who can stomach a bit of violence and has patience decoding unfamiliar symbols.