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.”

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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

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Mini-review: Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe

ariTitle: Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe
Author:  Benjamin Alire Sáenz
Pages: 359
Genre: contemporary, romance
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
Review Copy: the lovely local library
Availability: February 21, 2012

Summary: Aristotle is an angry teen with a brother in prison. Dante is a know-it-all who has an unusual way of looking at the world. When the two meet at the swimming pool, they seem to have nothing in common. But as the loners start spending time together, they discover that they share a special friendship—the kind that changes lives and lasts a lifetime. And it is through this friendship that Ari and Dante will learn the most important truths about themselves and the kind of people they want to be. [Image and summary via Goodreads]

Review: When you read a lot, you realize that there are books — and then there are books — the sort that you want to throw at your friends and scream “READ IT! I HAVE A LOT OF FEELINGS!” This is that sort of book. The plot, characters, style — everything about Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe is done so well. You really get to know the two protagonists, Aristotle and Dante. There’s friendship, romance, family — everything you could want. The only teensy problem I had was with the ending, which felt sort of rushed and a little forced. But, aside from that, it was wonderful. Talk to me and I will gush about this book for ages.

Recommendation: Buy it now! It’s such a beautiful story.

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Review: The Bitter Kingdom

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Title: Bitter Kingdom
Author: Rae Carson
Genre: Epic/Heroic Fantasy, Romance
Pages: 433
Publisher: Greenwillow Books
Review Copy: Edelweiss Digital ARC
Availability: August 27, 2013

Summary: The epic conclusion to Rae Carson’s Fire and Thorns trilogy. The seventeen-year-old sorcerer-queen will travel into the unknown realm of the enemy to win back her true love, save her country, and uncover the final secrets of her destiny.

Elisa is a fugitive in her own country. Her enemies have stolen the man she loves in order to lure her to the gate of darkness. As she and her daring companions take one last quest into unknown enemy territory to save Hector, Elisa will face hardships she’s never imagined. And she will discover secrets about herself and her world that could change the course of history. She must rise up as champion-a champion to those who have hated her most. — Cover image and summary via Goodreads.

Background Info: If you haven’t started this series, here is a video that will give you an overview of the first book and the general direction of the series.

Review: In the first book, The Girl of Fire and Thorns, Elisa is a tentative sixteen year old trying to figure out how to be “the chosen one” for her people and wondering if she’s up to the task. There is also a significant amount of romance involved. In The Crown of Embers, Elisa’s confidence increases as she takes on more leadership and continues to grow into her responsibilities, her abilities and her relationships. Finally, in The Bitter Kingdom, Elisa’s country has been brought to the brink of a civil war. Within the conflict, Elisa has the opportunity to show her many facets: Queen, Godstone bearer, the chosen one, sorcerer, woman, friend, lover, and horse thief. By the way, that last one is not really something Elisa enjoys since horses are one of her fears, but she will do whatever it takes to achieve her goals.

Elisa has many talents, but she is not perfect by any means. She makes plenty of mistakes along the way – typically due to her impatience. Fortunately, she loves to learn and most importantly she has a close circle of companions who watch out for her and help keep her on track. What really stands out in all three books is the relationships both romantic and otherwise. Elisa and her travel companions trust each other to the point that they have meaningful conversations that are open and painfully honest at times. Over time, Mara, Elisa’s handmaiden, becomes much more than a servant. They become confidants. This is a tight-knit group, but they are aware of the strengths and weaknesses of those around them and they don’t just ignore a misstep. Hector, the man Elisa loves, is not above questioning Elisa when he fears her impulses are in control. They also show their faith in each other, pointing out and applauding strengths.

Though the adventures and discussions are often serious, Carson also allows room for humor. Elisa does sarcasm well and there are even some awkward and funny moments amid the romance. Speaking of romance…wow! I can’t tell much for fear of spoiling things, but if you have read the first two, you know that Carson writes romance beautifully. She balances very realistic situations and concerns with a healthy dose of sensuality. What sets her apart is how she manages to do this without making it all about sex. The focus remains firmly on developing the whole relationship. The physical aspect of the relationship is certainly significant, but it does not overwhelm the other parts.

Unlike some trilogies, this series started out very good and then each book was better than the last. The Bitter Kingdom is a fast paced adventure with chases, fights, sorcery, erupting volcanos, and much more. Rae Carson shared intriguing characters that draw readers into the story and keep them wanting more.

Recommendation: If you have already read the first two books, you will want to get this as soon as it is available on August 27th. If you haven’t, you need to grab The Girl of Fire and Thorns to go ahead and get started. Probably you should just get all three because you are likely to want to read them in quick succession. For fantasy lovers, this is a must read.

 

 

 

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Review: Since You Asked

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Title: Since You Asked
Author: Maurene Goo
Genres: Contemporary, Comedy
Pages: 262
Publisher: Scholastic
Review Copy: Netgalley ARC
Availability: On shelves now

Summary: No, no one asked, but Holly Kim will tell you what she thinks anyway.

Fifteen-year-old Holly Kim is the copyeditor for her high school’s newspaper. When she accidentally submits an article that rips everyone to shreds, she gets her own column and rants her way through the school year. Can she survive homecoming, mean-girl cliques, jocks, secret admirers, Valentine’s Day, and other high school embarrassments, all while struggling to balance her family’s traditional Korean values?

In this hilarious debut, Maurene Goo takes a fresh look at trying to fit in without conforming to what’s considered “normal” in high school and how to manage parental expectations without losing one’s individuality…or being driven insane.

Review: Holly Kim makes me smile. She has a voice and she uses it — especially with her new column in the newspaper. She and her group of friends ooze sarcasm, with no apologies, to great comedic effect. Aside from snarky Holly, there is laid-back, artistic David (Chinese American), intelligent, sophisticated Liz (Persian American), and sweet, energetic Carrie (of hippie decent). The whole group excels at witty banter and also enjoys complaining, but almost more for the sake of fussing than true hatred. This may be seen especially with the interactions between Holly and her “very Korean” mother.

Holly’s relationship with her mother got my attention. Holly describes her as the “pushy dictator” and earns the “Korean Mom Death Stare” several times. Her relationship with her father is much more relaxed, but way less interesting. The tug of war between Holly and her mother felt very real and it intrigued me. It was a picture of a teenage girl stretching her wings, but it also highlighted the distinctions there may be when you have a Korean mother.

The format of the book is narrative chapters with letters to the editor and Holly’s newspaper columns sandwiched in between. Hearing other voices in brief snatches was a nice way to break up the chapters a bit. The columns were a clever way to reveal a lot about Holly. While she was writing to entertain, she was also getting to express her thoughts and opinion. The teacher in charge of the school newspaper gave her permission to shake things up and she goes after that goal with gusto.

Holly gets herself into all kinds of difficult situations throughout the school year usually as a direct result of being outspoken. That’s what is so endearing about her. When I reached the end of the book, I felt like I was beginning to know Holly and I wanted to see where she would go next. There is certainly an opportunity for a sequel. I wouldn’t be opposed.

Recommendation: Buy it now if you love funny contemporary novels.

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Mini-review: Cat Girl’s Day Off

cat girlTitle: Cat Girl’s Day Off
Author: Kimberly Pauley
Pages: 331
Genre: fantasy, mystery
Publisher: Tu Books
Review Copy: library (the love of my life)
Availability: April 1, 2012

Summary: Natalie Ng’s little sister is a super-genius with a chameleon-like ability to disappear. Her older sister has three Class A Talents, including being a human lie detector. Her mom has laser vision and has one of the highest IQs ever. And Nat? She can talk to cats. Nat and her friends are catapulted right into the middle of a celebrity kidnapping mystery that takes them through Ferris Bueller’s Chicago and on and off movie sets. (image and summary via Goodreads)

Review: I recently reread Cat Girl’s Day Off and I’m glad I did. The fact that the main character Nat Ng’s Talent is talking to cats already makes the book pretty awesome. On top of that, the book features three good friends (Nat, Oscar, and Melly) solving the mystery together — I’m a total sucker for stories with heartwarming friendship. The fast paced story, loveable characters, and hilarious dialogue make for a light, fun read.

Recommendation: Definitely read it if you get the chance or need something to brighten your day.

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