Saints by Gene Luen Yang is the companion book to Boxers. Boxers and Saints are a set of historical graphic novels about China’s Boxer Rebellion told from the perspective of two young people on opposing sides. Boxers (reviewed back in August) follows the journey of Little Bao who, with the power of the Old Gods burning inside him, rises to become a leader of the rebellion. Saints is Four-Girl’s story. She comes from the same village and was once described by Little Bao as having a face like an opera mask.
An unlucky fourth daughter born into a superstitious family hesitant to even give her a name, Four-Girl discovers the plentiful food offered by nice missionaries with unusual beliefs in one god. At first she’s drawn in for the hot meals and relief from her endless chores at home. Over time they give her the Christian name Vibiana and make her feel a part of something bigger than herself. Eventually she chooses their foreign god over the old gods of her ancestors.
Vibiana’s journey is one of spiritual awakening. As neighbors turn against the converted, she tries to stay true to the stirrings in her heart while the world bleeds around her. Once she takes a Christian name, she begins to receive visions and visits from a scared young girl with similar stirrings who grows into the maiden warrior Joan of Arc. Vibiana in turn grows up fast into a young woman who teaches, protects and fights with her life.
Though basically it had the same ending as Boxers, Saints left me unsatisfied – I wanted more from Four-Girl’s rather broad story. Little Bao’s journey was specific and had this universal, mystical quality to it that I missed here.
Still, I can see why these two volumes won the National Book Award and am glad I finally read them. Boxers and Saints effectively opened my mind to a time in history I new nothing about. But it’s only a glimpse. The length is probably perfect for the young readers it’s aimed at, but I definitely wanted more.