Review: Boxers and Saints

From IndieBound: “Boxers & Saints is an innovative new graphic novel in two volumes – the parallel stories of two young people caught up on opposite sides of a violent rift. American Born Chinese author Gene Luen Yang brings his clear-eyed storytelling and trademark magical realism to the complexities of the Boxer Rebellion and lays bare the foundations of extremism, rebellion, and faith.”

boxerssaints

Title: Boxers (336pp.)
Title: Saints (176pp.)
Author: Gene Luen Yang
Genres: History, Fantasy, Graphic Novel
Publisher: First Second
Review Copy: NetGalley
Availability: September 10, 2013

Boxers Summary: China,1898. Bands of foreign missionaries and soldiers roam the countryside, bullying and robbing Chinese peasants.

Little Bao has had enough. Harnessing the powers of ancient Chinese gods, he recruits an army of Boxers – commoners trained in kung fu who fight to free China from “foreign devils.” Against all odds, this grass-roots rebellion is violently successful. But nothing is simple. Little Bao is fighting for the glory of China, but at what cost? So many are dying, including thousands of “secondary devils” – Chinese citizens who have converted to Christianity.

Saints Summary: China, 1898. An unwanted fourth daughter, Four-Girl isn’t even given a proper name by her family. She finds friendship—and a name, Vibiana—in the most unlikely of places: Christianity. But China is a dangerous place for Christians. The Boxer Rebellion is murdering Westerners and Chinese Christians alike. Torn between her nation and her Christian friends, Vibiana will have to decide where her true loyalties lie . . . and whether she is willing to die for her faith.

Review: Gene Luen Yang brings the Boxer Rebellion to life in Boxers and Saints. Presenting the differing perspectives allows the reader to have a better understanding of the causes and motivations of the characters. These novels depict many atrocities towards men, women and children. Some of those actions are hard to take, but they do make a certain kind of sense when you see everything that led up to them including the misperceptions they have of the other culture. For the main character, Little Bao, the foreign devils are completely evil. They have no redeeming qualities whatsoever. As a result of a run in with the foreigners, his village and family have suffered greatly and the horrifying tales he hears only add to his negative opinion, so it is no surprise that he takes up arms against them. What may be harder to understand is his anger and hatred of the Chinese that follow the Christian ways. Using the multiple perspectives Yang manages to show the gray areas of this conflict. The characters themselves see everything as black and white, but the readers are given enough information to realize that the water is exceedingly muddy and many emotions and events lead others along their paths.

Boxers and Saints dealt with much more serious matters than I had expected from the opening. We are treated to scenes of fairs, Chinese opera, and see a young boy’s eagerness to learn martial arts. The art around the Chinese opera characters is stunning. The colors are vivid and the artwork is carefully detailed. Boxers soon becomes a battlefield though and much blood is spilled. In the midst of all the death and destruction, Little Bao is learning about himself and trying to align his philosophy with what he thinks he is “supposed” to believe. In addition, Four Girl, the main character in Saints, is trying to find her place in the world. She doesn’t want to just accept the place she has though. She wants to make the place that is right for her. These two young people have the same kinds of wishes that any teen might have, but their circumstances are extraordinary.

I found Boxers and Saints emotionally challenging. Witnessing man’s inhumanity to man is always draining for me. The characters feel so real that it is hard not to become involved and the scenes are intense. For readers looking for action, there is plenty of that. They may be surprised by the amount of thinking required though. I believe readers will follow the story even if they don’t have background knowledge of the Boxer rebellion, but I would imagine they will want to find out more by the time they are through. I went on a hunt for more information. Yang provides a nice bibliography at the end so readers can easily do that.

Recommendation: Buy it now – or at least get it as soon as you can. This is a beautifully illustrated and well told tale that you won’t want to miss.

Extras:
Essay by the author “The Boxer Rebellion and Pop Culture”

Book Trailer

Flashback in Color: Tears of a Tiger

Summer is officially over and all the children are back in school, learning the three R’s and reading, hopefully, diverse literature. In this “Back to School” themed post of Flashback in Color, I’d like to reminisce on the book that opened my eyes to using YA literature in the classroom, Sharon Draper’s first book in the Hazelwood High Trilogy, Tears of a Tiger.

Photo courtesy of Goodreads

Photo courtesy of Goodreads

I was introduced to this book during my first year of teaching when I was struggling with my sophomore students. My principal at the time suggested that instead of using the literature book, which was boring to the students (and to me, I must admit), that why don’t I have them read a novel that will relate to their lives and be of interest of them. He pulled out a copy of the book, handed it to me to read over the weekend, which I actually read in about 2 hours. It was just that intense and such a good read that the minute I put it down, I was already planning how to tie the book to my curriculum. The unit ended up being a success as my boys (I was at an all boys school) connect to the book, loved it in fact, and couldn’t wait to discuss the novel in class. Many students read it all in one sitting. Teaching Tears of a Tiger opened my eyes to Young Adult literature beyond Harry Potter (all I had read at that point) and what a powerful tool YA literature can be in the classroom. Ever since then, I have incorporated YA literature in all of my units, allowing for students to connect to the stories and be able to discuss issues that are important to them. While I have not taught Tears of a Tiger in a number of years, I still recommend it to students, specifically my young men, and actually teach another one of Sharon Draper’s novels.  Her novels accurately portray the teenage voice (Ms. Draper was a teacher herself) and deals with issues that teenagers face in high school. Draper doesn’t sugarcoat the lives of her characters, often being very frank and descriptive in the violence and/or the tragedies they face.

 
Tears of a Tiger is one such book that explores the tragic consequences of drinking and driving. In the novel, Andy Jackson is a star basketball player and one night after a game, he and a few friends decide to drink and drive. They ultimately crash and his best friend Robert is burned alive when the car catches fire. The rest of the novel deals with Andy’s guilt and the effects of the crash in his relationships, school work, and overall outlook on life. Draper uses a variety of methods, from newspaper clippings to school essays, to tell Andy’s story. The novel moves at a fast pace as you read about Andy’s downward spiral into depression. Tears of a Tiger is a touching story that made my heart race at points and brought tears at others. I can tell you that middle school boys and high school sophomores highly recommend this book. Buy one for them, they will thank you for it.

New Releases

Here are two lovely books being released tomorrow (9/3)!

zero fadeZero Fade by Chris L. Terry

Curbside Splendor Publishing Inc.

The debut young adult novel by Chicago writer Chris L. Terry. Zero Fade chronicles eight days in the life of inner-city Richmond, Virginia teen Kevin Phifer as he deals with wack hair-cuts, bullies, last-year fly gear, his uncle Paul coming out as gay, and being grounded. [Summary and Image via Goodreads]

 

 

 

lord of opium The Lord of Opium by Nancy Farmer

Atheneum Books for Young Readers

The new book continues the story of Matt, the boy who was cloned from evil drug lord El Patrón in The House of the Scorpion. Now 14 years old, Matt rules his own country, the Land of Opium, the only thriving place in a world ravaged by ecological disaster. Though he knows that the cure for ending the suffering is hidden in Opium, Matt faces obstacles and enemies at every turn when he tries to use his power to help. [Image and summary via Goodreads]

 

I need to get ahold of House of the Scorpion to reread — I can’t wait to read the long awaited sequel!

Review: Shadows on the Moon

Shadows on the MoonTitle: Shadows on the Moon
Author: Zoë Marriott
Genres: Fantasy, Romance
Pages: 447
Publisher: Candlewick Press
Review Copy: Purchased
Availability: On shelves now

Summary: On my fourteenth birthday when the sakura was in full bloom, the men came to kill us. We saw them come, Aimi and me. We were excited, because we did not know how to be frightened. We had never seen soldiers before.

Suzume is a shadow-weaver. She can create mantles of darkness and light, walk unseen in the middle of the day, change her face. She can be anyone she wants to be. Except herself.

Suzume died officially the day the Prince’s men accused her father of treason. Now even she is no longer sure of her true identity.

Is she the girl of noble birth living under the tyranny of her mother’s new husband, Lord Terayama? A lowly drudge scraping a living in the ashes of Terayama’s kitchens? Or Yue, the most beautiful courtesan in the Moonlit Lands?

Everyone knows Yue is destined to capture the heart of a prince. Only she knows that she is determined to use his power to destroy Terayama.

And nothing will stop her. Not even love.—(Summary and image via Goodreads)

Review: I went into Shadows of the Moon expecting a revenge-thriller-with-magic-and-Cinderella-elements set in a Japanese-inspired fantasy world…and I only sort of got what I wanted. When I sit down for a tale of revenge, I expect that a good portion of the work in question will center on planning revenge and the attempts at enacting said revenge. Unfortunately, Suzume/Rin/Yue (hereafter referred to as Heroine because she really does use three different given names over the course of the book) doesn’t actually get around to vocalizing, let alone enacting, the grand revenge scheme hinted at in the summary until page 262. That’s quite the delay considering the slaughter in her father’s house is over by page 16 and Heroine discovers who was behind the slaughter by page 112.

Instead, a good portion of the book actually centers on Heroine’s survivor’s guilt, particularly how she deals/doesn’t deal with her mother’s sudden remarriage and other spoiler-ific events. Heroine’s self-destructive attempts at keeping her sanity were actually quite engaging, but it took a long time for her to take control of her own life. I feel as if I spent the first half of the book wishing we could move onto more interesting things, like the revenge.

Perhaps my biggest complaint about this book is its magic. I’m not opposed to magic that’s more about the wonder than strict rules—see my love for N. K. Jemisin’s Hundred Thousand Kingdoms series—but I prefer magic that seems consistent. It’s one thing for Heroine to be able to create illusions or hide herself and quite another for her to be able to shape-shift, create matter from nothing, and heal. I could not figure out how those four separate powers went together, and I eventually had to throw up my hands and say I guess I’ll believe it if you really want me to. Heroine also does surprisingly little with her wide array of powers, to the point where in some scenes I wanted to point out other, cleverer things she could be doing with them for the sake of her revenge.

The side characters were a lot of fun, particularly Otieno and Akira. Heroine’s budding romance with Otieno was very cute, provided you’re able to roll with the fairytale-style InstaLove. At least the couple got to spend a lot of time together compared to most fairytale romances, despite the complete absence of Otieno from the summary. Akira brought a nice depth to the book with her history, especially as the ultimate enabler of Heroine’s revenge. I’m always pleased to run into adults who support teenage protagonists and allow them to make their own decisions—even if they don’t agree with those decisions.

Recommendation: Borrow it someday. Shadows on the Moon needed 100 fewer pages spent on being passive, confused, and/or powerless and 100 more pages on revenge, plot twists, and moral quandaries.

Mini-Review: If You Could Be Mine

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Title: If You Could Be Mine By Author: Sara Farizan
Pages: 256
Genre: contemporary, romance, LGBTQ
Publisher: Algonquin Young Readers
Review Copy: Netgalley
Availability: August 20, 2013

Summary: In this stunning debut, a young Iranian American writer pulls back the curtain on one of the most hidden corners of a much-talked-about culture.

Seventeen-year-old Sahar has been in love with her best friend, Nasrin, since they were six. They’ve shared stolen kisses and romantic promises. But Iran is a dangerous place for two girls in love—Sahar and Nasrin could be beaten, imprisoned, even executed if their relationship came to light.

So they carry on in secret—until Nasrin’s parents announce that they’ve arranged for her marriage. Nasrin tries to persuade Sahar that they can go on as they have been, only now with new comforts provided by the decent, well-to-do doctor Nasrin will marry. But Sahar dreams of loving Nasrin exclusively—and openly.

Then Sahar discovers what seems like the perfect solution. In Iran, homosexuality may be a crime, but to be a man trapped in a woman’s body is seen as nature’s mistake, and sex reassignment is legal and accessible. As a man, Sahar could be the one to marry Nasrin. Sahar will never be able to love the one she wants, in the body she wants to be loved in, without risking her life. Is saving her love worth sacrificing her true self? — Cover image and summary from Goodreads

My Thoughts: Sahar speaks from the heart and won my own heart in the process. Sahar and Nasrin are in such a difficult position, but Sahar refuses to give up without even trying. She looks for ways to change her situation with courage and hope.

I appreciated reading a book set in Iran. Sadly, I did not know many details about life in Iran. Readers certainly won’t become experts, but will at least have a picture in their head of Iranian people beyond what they may have seen on the news.

If You Could Be Mine presents a complicated romance and the coming of age of two young women.

Recommendation: Get it soon. Take advantage of this chance to meet Sahar and the people she loves.

Extras:
Interview with Sara Farizan

New Releases

One new release for the end of August and end of summer. I have not read any of the previous books in the trilogy, but I am a lover of series, so the Girl of Fire and Thorns trilogy, now that it is finished, is added to my already long reading list.

BitterThe Bitter Kingdom, by Rae Carson

Greenwillow Books

The third book in Rae Carson’s award-winning The Girl of Fire and Thorns fantasy trilogy. Elisa, the seventeen-year-old sorcerer-queen, will travel into an unknown enemy’s realm to win back her true love, save her kingdom, and uncover the final secrets of her destiny.

Perfect for fans of Tamora Pierce and George R. R. Martin’s style of sweeping and deeply satisfying epic fantasy, the third and final book in the trilogy takes the young queen on a journey more dangerous than any she has faced before. Elisa will stand before the gate of the enemy. And she must rise up as champion—even to those who have hated her—or her kingdom will fall. Full of sorcery, adventure, sizzling romance, and secrets that challenge everything she believes, this is a bold and powerful conclusion to an extraordinary trilogy.

(Image & summary via Amazon)