American Born Chinese | Boxers and Saints – Gene Luen Yang

Posted 14 February, 2014 by Trish in Reading Nook, Review / 17 Comments

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Well, we’re officially halfway through February! I was making my two week meal plan yesterday and was shocked when I realized that two Saturdays from tomorrow will be March. How did this happen? This month my reading has been focused on Graphic Novels and it’s going swimmingly well. I’ve finished five so far and have at least half a dozen others sitting on my kitchen counter waiting patiently for me. 

Title: American Born Chinese
Author: Gene Luen Yang
Published: 2006; Pages: 233
Genre: Fiction/Graphic Novel/Young Adult

In Short: Three characters with individual stories – Jin Wang who is trying to find his footing as the only Chinese-American at his school; the Monkey King who wants to be revered as a god; Danny whose cousin Chin-Kee visiting from China continually proves to be an embarrassment.

Thoughts in General: Yang presents three unique storylines that were all entertaining and thought-provoking and highly readable. Through Yang’s illustrations I felt the heartache, frustration, and even sometimes rage as Jin tried to fit in with his white classmates. I was uncomfortable with Yang’s highly stereotypical Chinese character Chin-Kee which I believe was one of his purposes. And I enjoyed the trials and tribulations of that poor Monkey King who so wants to be accepted by the other gods. Most pleasing, though, was how all of these stories converged at the ending to provide important lessons about self-acceptance.

Bottom Line: While this isn’t the most powerful graphic novel I’ve encountered, I thoroughly enjoyed it and would certainly recommend it. I loved the colorful illustrations and am never ceased to be amazed at how emotionally powerful and descriptive graphic novels can be.

Next up is the two book series Boxers and Saints. These volumes are historical fiction of the Boxer Rebellion in China in the late 1800s told through the lens of magical realism.

Title: Boxers
Author: Gene Luen Yang
Published: 2013; Pages: 325
Genre: Fiction/Graphic Novel/Young Adult

In Short: In 1898, under the thumb of increasing foreign rule and influence, Bao harnesses the power and strength of an ancient god and raises an army to fight against the foreigners.

Thoughts in General: I really liked Boxers and might have even enjoyed the book more than I liked American Born Chinese. I wasn’t familiar with the Boxer Rebellion before reading these books and as always it’s fascinating and eye opening to imagine the imperialism and colonization during the 19th century. Boxers is told from the perspective of a young villager, Bao, who eventually leads an army of Chinese against the “foreign devils.”

Title: Saints
Author: Gene Luen Yang
Published: 2013; Pages: 170
Genre: Fiction/Graphic Novel/Young Adult

In Short: The story of the Boxer Rebellion from the perspective of a Christian convert Vibiana. Whereas Bao and the Boxers called upon the spirits of ancient gods for strength, Vibiana communed with Joan of Arc.

Thoughts in General: Saints is much shorter than Boxers and I didn’t feel quite as connected to the story or to Vibiana as a character. It was interesting to see the other side of the story–the fear of the missionaries and converts as these village rebels violently swept through the country. The ending was especially curious as it doesn’t quite fit with Boxers, but it provided an interesting twist to the meeting of Vibiana and Bao.

Bottom Line for Boxers and Saints: A vivid and colorful account of a historical event that many of us are probably not very familiar with. Even more than the history and mythical elements of the story, I loved the juxtaposition of Vibiana and Bao’s bravery and their youth and innocence. Yang continually reminds us of how these [fictional] characters were still young and immature in spite of their “heroic” acts.

Looking for a graphic novel to devour? Go get your hands on these–I don’t think you’ll be sorry! If you’re new to the graphic novel format, these are all great places to begin.

Have you read any of Gene Luen Yang’s books? What did you think?

17 Responses to “American Born Chinese | Boxers and Saints – Gene Luen Yang”

  1. I used to teach American Born Chinese in my Introduction to Literature course. Chin-Kee is such a powerful character, and I really thought the way three stories are interweaved is artful. May have to bring this one back…

  2. Ahh, I love Gene Luen Yang so much. I really enjoyed the two viewpoints of Boxers and Saints and admire that he gave each character their own book instead of going back and forth in one book. Really helped bring each story into focus. I really need to get my own copies of all of these.

  3. I haven’t read American Born Chinese but I loved Boxers and Saints. It made me want to learn more about that period of history. I liked the juxtaposition of the different viewpoints on the same events. I’m typically not much of a fan of magical realism but it worked here.

  4. Gene Luen Yang is one of my favs so I’m glad to see you enjoyed all three of these. I loved ABC for how the stories converged as well. So absolutely masterful, in my opinion. Yang just does such a good job providing young readers with the opportunity to learn while still being entertained. And the fact that he’s teaching a subject most of us Westerners know little about with the Boxer Rebellion is fantastic.

  5. I’m having difficulty with this type of book, maybe I’m just too old. American Born Chinese, you do know that’s how they refer to these people, in the Chinese circle. My nieghbor kept saying that and finally asked her what she was talking about. Of coarse it was Canadian Born Chinese, refered to as CBC’s. or ABC’s I feel for these students.

  6. I have American Born Chinese sitting on my shelf right now. I checked it out from the library (along with Persepolis) but haven’t started reading it yet. (Kinda went crazy at the library and checked out too many books haha). I’ll have to start it soon. Great review!

  7. I really do want to pick up more graphic novels and I’m happy to have the recommendations. Always tough to know what to pick up when you try something completely new.

  8. I agree with Heather – I loved that he gave each story their own book and that you are forced to think about one side and then have everything changed when you spend time with the other side.

  9. Huzzah! I’m so glad you picked these up. American Born Chinese is one of my fave books to teach to elementary ed majors at the university. They’re always slightly uncomfortable with the idea of graphic novels, and most of them are won over by the end. We do have a great time discussing Chin-kee and why Yang used him as a device and what he was meant to accomplish. Just so many things to say about that book, and I’ve also found it’s great for reluctant readers. My stepson loved it when he didn’t want to read ANYTHING ever. lol

    And Boxers/Saints was really powerful. They’re wonderful alone, but they’re GREAT together!