Boxers and Saints is a graphic novel historical fiction of the Boxer Rebellion in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. I knew nothing of the Boxer Rebellion other than its name. I don't even know if I could have told you what country it occurred in prior to reading these books. Through reading Boxers and Saints I came to a much better understanding of this rebellion and what it meant to China and to how it shaped China's future.
I read Boxers first which follows the story of Bao, a Chinese boy, who watches as Christian foreign devils and their converts destroy the symbols of his belief and kill whomever stands against them. He is visited by one of China's gods and gathers a group of like minded young men to fight and kill these intruders with the ultimate goal of expelling them from China and reclaiming their heritage. It is a bloody story that leads them to Beijing and direct confrontation with the white foreign devils.
Saints follows a young girl, Four-Girl, who is basically an outcast in her family. She finds a true family in the Chinese Christians living in her village. She is visited by the ghost of Joan of Arc and dedicates herself to Catholicism and renames herself Vibiana. She then becomes a missionary helping at an orphanage.
I found both books to be sad and enlightening. I felt for both characters and it saddened me to see so much violence and brutality. Yang does a wonderful job of portraying this without being too graphic; however, it is still graphic. This is not a book for elementary and middle school students. I would even be cautious with ninth graders. While I do think they would be drawn into the books and learn a great deal from them, you will have to judge whether your students are mature enough to handle the images and themes these books explore. Overall, this would be a great set to have in a classroom or school library or to use in literature circles, but I do not know if I would teach it as a class set.
I had a hard time personally with these books because of how angry they made me. I was angry with the Europeans for their egotistical opinion that they were better than the Chinese and therefore had the right to treat them as inferior and I was angry with the Chinese that they could not allow the Chinese Christians to follow their faith in peace. Yang does an excellent job of portraying both sides with fairness showing both the good and evil of the Boxers and the Saints.