Boxers & Saints
A love story set during China's Boxer Rebellion, told through two graphic novels.
Many parents, myself included, have a love-hate relationship with graphic novels. The fear, I think, is that because the form is so appealing, these glorified comics will subsume “real” literature and “real” reading. And, of course, there are many graphic novels that peddle to the lowest common denominator that justify these fears. But parents shouldn’t worry too much, because we’re living in the golden age of graphic novels. It’s a form that pushes boundaries, with a new generation of authors and illustrators rethinking what is possible.
Boxers and Saints, the new releases by Gene Luen Yang, show how rich and evocative a graphic novel, or in this case a matched pair of graphic novels, can be. Sold both individually and as a set, the books tell stories from the opposite sides of China’s Boxer Rebellion. The tales follow love-bound protagonists through intersecting story lines that weave their way through the complex history and politics of the era.
It’s ambitious storytelling that my eight-year-old ate up, reading both books in a day and delighting at the connections between the two. These are dark tales where hope is eventually crushed, and the cruelty and tragedy of the era are not glossed over or sugarcoated. Perhaps because of this, the books resonated with my son and have led to deep and thoughtful conversations about the nature of war and love. This is the essence of what good children’s literature should do, and I wholeheartedly recommend diving in.