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Boxers and Saints by Gene Luen Yang


Highlights: Pretty much everything about Yang's novels is a highlight. I'd bet money on one of them taking the Printz Award today.
Synopsis: These companion novels offer opposing perspectives on the Chinese Boxer Rebellion.


Yang combines themes of adolescent identity and ambiguous morality to craft a thought-provoking pair of novels with depth, humor, and his trademark artistic style.


The novels work best as a pair, though awards committees may feel that each needs to be considered separately.

Posted January 27, 2014 by

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Boxers and Saints is a pair of graphic novels revealing two different perspectives of the Chinese Boxer Rebellion. Though each is technically an independent work of fiction, they work best when read and sold together.

Boxers is the story of Little Bao and the Chinese Nationalists. In a land of drought and starvation, the people are becoming uneasy. Christian missionaries and soliders are bullying Chinese people who have little to give. Little Bao gathers with his brothers and neighbors to learn Kung Fu in hopes of defending their people, their land, and, eventually, their country from these “foreign devils.” With a little help from some ancient Chinese gods, the rebellion grows. Little Bao must lead. He must kill. But will he win or die in the process?

Saints is the story of Four-Girl, who is unwanted by her family. She seeks refuge with Christian missionaries in town, mostly because they pay attention to her and give her delicious cookies. She converts to Christianity and works with orphans in a fortified compound to protect Christians from the rebels. Even with her new name, Vibiana, she still questions Christianity until she meets a friend in the woods — the ghost of Joan of Arc. Joan urges Vibiana to fight for Christianity, regardless of the personal consequences. Confused, Vibiana can’t decide between her Chinese roots and her duty to Christianity in the conflict that is about to burst through the doors of her safe new world.

Now, by the time you read this it will be the day of the Printz Award announcements. You may even be reading this after the announcements have been made. So when I say that I do think that I would put money on one of these novels to win the award, you have to give me some leeway if you read this after my prediction is already defunct.

I do think this will get a medal today.

Gene Luen Yang already won the Printz in 2007 for his graphic novel American Born Chinesebut Boxers and Saints are even stronger novels that approach some interesting territory. Yang effectively brings the Boxer Rebellion into readers’ living rooms, and forces them to consider both sides of the conflict. On one side, Little Bao shows the growing unrest of the Chinese Nationalists who felt forced to defend their country. On the other, Four-Girl demonstrates the reasons why Chinese citizens would seek refuge in Christianity with the missionaries. Both novels are sympathetic to their respective protagonists’ actions while simultaneously revealing the mistakes each makes. Neither Four-Girl nor Little Bao comes off as a hero without faults.

Honestly, I don’t have any major criticisms of this pair of books. What will be interesting to watch with Boxers and Saints will be whether or not the Printz committee will consider them as individual books or as a single book. The National Book Award for Young People’s Literature committee considered them as a single entry, which both shocked book professionals (though it makes sense) and set an interesting precedent. The Printz committee may refused to recognize them as one. These books may win the Printz award or honor as a pair, or each may get a medal. It’s even possible that one will win the first place award while the other wins an honor. Anything could happen — including the scenario where neither wins anything. I’ll post my thoughts on the results next week!

I’m considering Boxers and Saints to be Printz contenders, and my reviews this winter will cover other books that represent the best of 2013. Have you read The Summer Prince, Sex & Violence, Rose Under FireEleanor & ParkWingeror any more of 2013’s best? Share your thoughts in the comments!


Former middle school teacher and school librarian, current doctoral student in education. Reader of all things young adult. I'm particularly fond of dystopian societies, sassy female protagonists, and clever dialogue. I can often be found asleep with a book on my face. Check out all my articles.


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