Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Best of 2013: Graphic Novels

Two of the many items enjoyed by Burbank Public Library staff during 2013, recommended for your consideration:

Boxers and Saints by Gene Luen Yang
There is a saying that “there are three sides to every story: yours, mine, and the truth.” One of my favorite reads from 2013 is actually two books that present the contrasting and parallel “yours and mine” side of the larger story; the truth is left to the reader to consider and think about.

The pair of books is from our teen collection of Graphic Novels. Recently nominated for the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature, Boxers and Saints by Gene Luen Yang present complex, interrelated, yet individual stories set within the Chinese Boxer Rebellion from 1899-1901.

Boxers focuses upon Little Bao, who lives in a small, rural Chinese village. He suffers at the hands of the “foreign devils” [Christian Missionaries and their Chinese military supporters], learns Kung Fu, and eventually becomes a leader in the “Society of the Righteous and Harmonious Fist” and the Chinese rebellion against such outside influences.

Saints offers a parallel story that counters the reader’s sympathy with the traditional Chinese ways presented in Boxers, because its protagonist, Four-Girl, is someone who, rejected by her family, finds purpose and acceptance in her life through conversion to Christianity.

Yang’s deceptively simple narration and beautifully realized artwork manage to engage, enthrall and entertain while providing a complex look at a historical conflict that may have no real winners.  History, action, adventure, mysticism, romance, the struggles of coming-of-age, faith and family are all elements in Yang’s work. If you think that “graphic novels” are simply “fights and tights” stories with superheroes for kids, Boxers and Saints may change your thinking and open your world to a whole other way of telling stories.  While you can read each book as an individual tale,  to do so would rob you of the richness gained from seeing them as one entity. I look forward to reading more of this storyteller’s work.

David P., Technical Services Supervisor

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