Boxers & Saints by Gene Luen Yang

unnamedGene Luen Yang is probably my favorite graphic novelist. I’m not sure anyone else even comes close. I read American Born Chinese last year and fell in deep, deep love. Recently, he released his follow-up, a companion novel set called Boxers & Saints. I bought the box set for myself for Christmas and read them in one sitting.

Yang’s two book collection tells the story of the Boxer Rebellion in China during the late 19th Century through the characters of Little Bao (Boxers) and Four-Girl (Saints). Little Bao fights on the side of the Chinese rebels while Four-Girl grows up and converts to Christianity, fighting on the side of the foreigners. Their stories interweave to create a surprisingly complete and complex look at this particularly volatile time in Chinese history.

LOVED IT. I didn’t think it could live up to American Born Chinese, but it did – in spades. I seriously think this one beat the pants off of ABC. So, so good. I don’t even have words. Words are failing me. Yang’s ability to break my heart and make me laugh simultaneously is unparalleled in any recent book I’ve read.

Beyond Yang’s amazing storytelling, Boxers & Saints are both beautifully illustrated and colored. The palette is gorgeous and muted – changing over time with the stories. The hues of these two books really reminded me of the coloration in the movie Her that was just released and which I also loved. There are panels in both books that I could stare at happily for hours. Panels I love to print out and put on my wall to look at every day. And that’s what a good graphic novel should do. Its words and its pictures should be able to evoke a strong emotional response. Kudos, Mr. Yang.

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I beseech you to go and pick these two gems up immediately. Go ahead and grab Yang’s entire backlist while you’re at it. You won’t be sorry.

American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang

118944American Born Chinese appealed to me on several levels. One: Pictures. Two: I am married to a Taiwanese immigrant. Three: Pictures. Four: The seriously amazing rave reviews. 5: Boba Tea.

Gene Luen Yang’s story follows Jin, Danny, and the Monkey King. Jin is a Chinese American boy who just wants to fit in with his white, all-American classmates. Danny is the apple pie to Jin’s dim sum whose life gets disturbed once a year when his Chinese cousin Chin Kee comes to visit. And the Monkey King simply wants nothing to do with being a monkey. Yang’s three story lines start out going their separate ways until they brilliantly collide and teach everyone a thing or two about identity, acceptance, and the human condition.

And yes, brilliant is the only word that suits American Born Chinese. Brilliantly clever. Brilliantly heartwarming. Brilliantly honest. Each character is at once charming, lovable, and a total rascal. As a graphic novel, I was super impressed at how each character develops so richly throughout the narrative’s short, yet expressive, pages. Yang deserved all the awards, not just the Printz, in my opinion. A great novel to share with anyone in your life.

The illustrations are gorgeous and do such an excellent job at showing motion. I haven’t read another graphic novel that I can recall where the action really seems to move. Each drawing adds something to the story and often has emotional impact. I really can’t gush enough. American Born Chinese is my new favorite graphic novel. It’s a story worth telling and a story Yang tells expertly.

Your turn! What’s your favorite graphic novel? Any other Printz Award winners you’d recommend?