08. January 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Courtney, Fiction, Graphic Novel, Historical Fiction, Teen Books

Saints by Gene Luen Yang, 170 pages, read by Courtney, on 12/08/2013

Saints is the second part of Yang’s duology “Boxers & Saints”. It follows Four-Girl, a fourth daughter so named because her family no longer even had the interest in naming a fourth girl. Poor and neglected, Four-Girl decides she must be a devil. How can she be more of a devil? Why, by seeking out the “foreign devils” (the missionaries) that are becoming increasingly present in rural China. The missionaries give Four-Girl a name, Vibiana and a community that accepts her as she eventually accepts it. While she finds some peace in Christianity, she cannot ignore the rumors of an uprising against the Christians, both foreign and Chinese. Vibiana must now become prepared to choose between her country and her new-found faith. She begins to have visions of Joan of Arc, who encourages her to follow her faith even as the missionary stronghold is attacked by the Boxers.
While each of these books can be independently, the full range of their complexity is not revealed until both are read. We meet Four-Girl/Vibiana briefly in Boxers and Little Bao makes a reappearance in Saints. Four-Girl and Bao have more in common than they think. Where Four-Girl imagines Joan of Arc, Bao imagines himself and his followers as the Chinese gods. Both are from smaller villages that are impacted dramatically by imperialist forces. I really, really love how the two stories are told and how they’re presented. This treatment of showing each side through a different visual context seems like it should be simple and yet I have never seen/read anything quite like it. The reader develops sympathy for both sides of the conflict, which is probably how all historical conflicts should be presented. There are always multiple ways to view a story or incident, but it is frequently difficult to see beyond one side or another. Yang does an excellent job of balancing a complicated story with excellent storytelling technique.

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