Saints

by Gene Luen Yang

A brilliant pair of graphic novels explores events surrounding the Boxer Rebellion... read more

A brilliant pair of graphic novels explores events surrounding the Boxer Rebellion in early twentieth-century China through two characters who age from childhood to young adulthood and stand on different sides of the conflict. Saints tells the story of Four-Girl, who feels unloved by her family and starts receiving religious instruction from a kind Chinese Christian acupuncturist (although her greater motivation, at least initially, is the snacks served by the man's wife). Taking the saint's name Vibiana when she converts to Christianity, she has a powerful connection to Joan of Arc, witnessing Joan's faith and struggles through visions, and sometimes conversing with her. Vibiana joins a priest named Father Bey inside a walled Christian mission community, helping care for orphans as rumors of a group called the Society of the Righteous and Harmonious Fist spread. The Boxers, as they are also known, attack and kill Christian missionaries and converts, whom they perceive as devils. Boxers follows the story of Bao, a boy eager to learn martial arts. His older brothers scoff, but a mysterious teacher secretly instructs Bao, and eventually sends him to be trained in the ritual by which he can embody a god when he fights. The death of his teacher at the hand of British soldiers inspires Bao and others to form the Society of the Righteous and Harmonious Fist, to destroy the soldiers, missionaries, and Chinese Christians who are undermining the economy and Chinese religious and cultural traditions. Bao and his followers attack Vibiana's mission before continuing to Peking, where the final, tragic standoff between the Boxers and the British takes place. Gene Luen Yang's dazzling pairing features scenes of the same events from vastly different perspectives while offering equally respectful depictions of religion and spirituality. The actions inspired by religious beliefs are open to criticism but the beliefs themselves are not, so that the Boxers embodying their gods as they go into battle is no different from Vibiana's visions of and conversations with Joan of Arc. The conflicting motivations, beliefs, and desires of Bao and Vibiana are revealed but never judged. The books can be read in either order, but reading them both is essential to garner the full impact and insights. Yang's clean-lined visual style and sense of humor both lighten this remarkable look at history, religion, and culture that is substantial but never weighty. (Age 14 and older)

© Cooperative Children's Book Center, Univ. of Wisconsin - Madison, 2014

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