Saints by Gene Luen Yang
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars
Saints is the second book of a two-part graphic novel series by Gene Luen Yang about the Boxer Rebellion in China. Although it is historical fiction, it has a hint of fantasy to it where the reader has to suspend their disbelief in order to enjoy the story. Yang is a fantastic storyteller, so he is able to weave the narratively beautifully and engage readers, even if they don’t normally gravitate towards historical fiction. I felt that it was an incredibly approachable way to tell the story without it being dry. His work reminds me of Anderson’s (2011) words from Tasting the Past and how “walking in the footsteps of people from the past adds vibrancy to their words. It’s one thing to read about a fire, quite another to smell the smoke and hear the wood pop and sizzle” (p.23). He is able to make his stories come alive through his characters and his art in a way that lends itself to turning history into an engaging historical fiction graphic novel.
The main character in Saints is Four-Girl, a girl who is associated with death by her family (as she is the fourth child, in the fourth month, etc.) and deemed to much a devil to be given her own name. Her life struggles and familial abuse lead her to exploring Christianity (although initially it was just for the cookies) and gives us the other side of the tale. Although Bao also had visions in his tale, they felt more a part of the narrative than Four-Girl’s… since she talked to a scary raccoon and dreamt of Joan of Arc. It was more challenging to just accept the Joan hallucinations than it was to believe Bao’s gods spoke to him. I just didn’t connect to her character (or her dreams) the same way that I did Little Baos’. The strength of this story is the characterization, although the plot, style, setting, and theme all play important supporting roles.
Overall, I really enjoyed reading this and learning more about the Boxer Rebellion in an engaging format. It was really interesting to see the two stories intersect and influence one another, once you had read Boxers. I will say that I liked Boxers more than I liked Saints, both storywise and art-style wise. It was a unique way of telling the same story about history, without switching between perspectives every chapter. Four-Girl/Vibiana and Little Bao each had their own story and time to tell their tales.
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Saints by Gene Luen Yang