Boxers and Saints by Gene Luen Yang

Boxers (Boxers & Saints, #1)Saints (Boxers & Saints, #2)

Boxers and Saints by Gene Luen Yang
Published by First Second

From the publisher (Boxers):

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

From the publisher (Saints):

China, 1898. An unwanted and unwelcome fourth daughter, Four-Girl isn’t even given a proper name by her family when she’s born. 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 in full swing, and bands of young men roam the countryside, 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.

American Born Chinese was one of the first graphic novels I’d ever read, and it opened my eyes to the amazing way storytelling and illustrations can come together in this medium to create an incredible reading experience. Since then, I’ve read many more, but I always think fondly about Gene Luen Yang as he is literally the person who introduced me to the graphic novel – so I always pick up his books when I can. Boxers and Saints are two separate books, but in my opinion they must be read together – otherwise you’re only getting half of the story. I loved that he did these as companion books, as they are two very distinct books with their own characters and events, but they truly come together to complete the picture of this scary time in Chinese history.

I love Yang’s illustrations and these books were no exception to that. He is so detailed, so precise, to the point where the illustrations alone would tell the story if the text wasn’t there. His drawings are gorgeous and I could pore over them for a long time without even needing the words.

But the story itself is an important one. And by showing the Boxer Rebellion from both sides, he really illuminated the fact that in all conflicts, there is no right or wrong, necessarily. There are just people, fighting for what they believe in, for what they know in their hearts is true and what they feel desperately needs to be done. Both Little Bao and Vibiana showed me that their stories have value, their beliefs are real for them, and I just thought, how unfortunate and tragic that this conflict even had to happen in the first place.

What I love is when books make me want to do more research upon finishing them, and these books did exactly that. I read more about the Boxer Rebellion – something I knew almost nothing about – after finishing these books and can now say I’m more educated on this particular time in history. After learning more about it, I am even more impressed by the way Yang managed to combine facts with his own fictional spin on things, and actually want to reread the books armed with more background knowledge about the conflict.

Highly recommended! Graphic novels are awesome – do pick one up if you never have before, your eyes will be open to a whole new world of reading.

Mini-reviews: Cinder, Requiem and Anya’s Ghost

Marissa Meyer; Read by Rebecca Soler CinderCinder by Marissa Meyer
Published by Square Fish, an imprint of Macmillan

I have seen several raving reviews for Cinder and while I definitely liked it, I can’t say it was love for me. I definitely loved the concept, and thought that Meyer took the Cinderella story and crafted an incredibly unique re-telling, and I really liked the characters, especially Cinder herself. I listened to the audio and the narrator, Rebecca Soler, did an excellent job. Such a good job, in fact, that I made sure to get the second installment of this series, Scarlet, on audio as well. I’m definitely a fan of this novel and am excited to see what Meyer does with the series. I think dystopian novels are just becoming old hat for me these days. I haven’t fallen in LOVE with one in a long time. But Cinder is good, definitely well-written, thoughtful, great characters. I’d still recommend it for sure.

Requiem By Lauren OliverRequiem by Lauren Oliver
Published by HarperCollins

I FINALLY got Requiem from the library and cracked it open immediately upon returning home. For much of the novel, I must admit to feeling underwhelmed. I was, strangely, more interested in Hana’s story than in Lena’s. I found Lena’s portions of the novel more meandering, with too much happening. There was a revolution, there was a love triangle (sort of), there was the possibility of her mother being back in her life … it was too much, and because of all of that not enough attention was given to any one aspect of Lena’s story. Hana’s, on the other hand, was fascinating because she was living in the world as a Cured, engaged to one of the most prominent men in society, and she was learning major Important Things about this world. Overall, I was kept interested in the book but was disappointed in the ending and almost felt like it could have been four books instead of three.

Written & illustrated by Vera Brosgol Anya's GhostAnya’s Ghost by Vera Brosgol
Published by First Second, an imprint of Macmillan

Sometimes a graphic novel is exactly the kind of book I need to entertain me without too much effort on my part. I really liked this one, in which a girl falls into a well, finds the ghost of a girl who fell in that same well many years ago, and befriends the ghost. The illustrations in this one were gorgeous, the story is one of those that has a light lesson within, and I was overall incredibly entertained and interested in this story that Brosgol told. For those of you who enjoy a graphic novel every now and again, like myself, Anya’s Ghost is not to be missed.

A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

A Monster CallsA Monster Calls by Patrick Ness
Published by Candlewick Press

Beginning when Conor’s mother first got sick, he’s had the same terrifying dream every single night. But one night, when he wakes from the middle of the dream at the same place he always wakes, a visitor is waiting for him. And this visitor isn’t what he was expecting – this monster is physically harmless, but wants the one thing Conor is unable, unwilling to give – the truth.

I’ve been wanting to read this book for what feels like forever. I loved the Chaos Walking trilogy from Patrick Ness (starts with The Knife of Never Letting Go, a book that gutted me in a serious way), and I knew that A Monster Calls was inspired by an idea from Ness’ friend and fellow author, Siobhan Dowd, who was planning to write a book based on this idea but passed away before she was able to do so. Plus, bloggers have been raving about this one since its original release in the UK. I thought I was prepared for this book, emotionally. I thought I knew what to expect. But while I had an idea of what I would find in these pages, the truth of how affecting it would be was lost on me. When I finally reached the end of this book, tears rolling down my cheeks, I finally got it. And now I’m here to tell you that if you have not experienced A Monster Calls for yourself, you must. Absolutely you must read this beautiful book.

Everything about this book spoke to me. Conor, a young child, having to deal with his mother’s suffering from cancer, broke my heart. Not only was he dealing with his mother’s illness, but he had no other adults in his life with even a smidgen of understanding of how to deal with a grieving young child. It was so difficult to read about how the few people his mom had to help them didn’t seem to care about Conor or put any effort into discovering what his needs might be. Truly, this kid just made me want to climb into the book and give him a huge hug.

The illustrations by Jim Kay were gorgeous and I think made this story complete. Seeing the monster added to the spookiness of his existence and made the fact that Conor was seeing the monster with his own eyes more real. The pictures, done in black and white, made the book have that sinister, creepy feel – that feeling that you just know things aren’t going to be happy in the end, but the specifics are a big question mark.

At the end of this book, I was sobbing. This novel is so beautiful, but the truth of the matter is that the issues Conor is dealing with are not pretty. They are difficult, they are heartbreaking, they are real. So please read this book. It’s absolutely gorgeous, such an amazing story, one that will stay with me for a long, long time.

The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick

The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick
Published by Scholastic Press

Twelve-year-old Hugo lives in a Paris train station, alone, as he has been orphaned by his father’s recent passing. When his father died, Hugo quietly took over his duties as clock keeper for the station, and since he has no idea how to cash the stack of paychecks he is compiling, he is forced to steal food at every opportunity just to survive. His life takes a big turn when he meets a young girl whose father runs the toy booth in the train station.

The Invention of Hugo Cabret is really something else. Told in both words and pictures, Hugo’s story broke my heart and inspired me at the same time. Selznick’s ability to blend the story of Hugo with his beautiful illustrations is absolutely remarkable and can’t be explained – it needs to be experienced for one to understand how seamlessly he is able to bring together these two elements of the book. The Invention of Hugo Cabret isn’t just a book – it is truly an experience, one that I absolutely loved.

It is impossible for the reader not to fall in love with Hugo immediately. He is such a young child, yet with so much responsibility on his shoulders, and so much emotional baggage to carry around and fight through. But his attitude is one of doing what needs to be done without complaining, without thinking his life could be better, without expecting anything else than what he is used to. He is amazingly mature for his age yet still has held on to the genuine curiosity that only a child can truly have.

I don’t know what else to say about The Invention of Hugo Cabret besides the fact that you should read it. This is truly a magical story, one that is not to be missed.

Chopsticks by Jessica Anthony and Rodrigo Corral

ChopsticksChopsticks by Jessica Anthony and Rodrigo Corral
Published by Razorbill, an imprint of Penguin

Glory, a young piano prodigy, quickly falls in love with Frank when he moves in next door to the home she shares with her father. But their love develops into something more serious, even desperate, as Glory’s eccentricities and quirks slowly turn into madness. She becomes obsessed with the song “Chopsticks.” Will their love survive Glory’s ever-worsening instability?

Chopsticks is told in a very interesting and unique way. It is a story told mostly in pictures, drawings, text messages, and even YouTube videos. Even with this nontraditional format, it’s very clear how quickly and deeply Glory and Frank fall in love, and their feelings for one another come across just as loudly as if the words were explicitly written.

I enjoyed experiencing Chopsticks – the unique format captivated me and I couldn’t put it down. Since there’s not a lot here to actually read, the book is a quick read and I easily got lost in the story and finished it in one sitting.

The thing is, though, that there’s a pretty big twist in the story. I tell you that because, even though I knew to expect it, I still missed it. Pay attention – things are not exactly what they seem here and if you figure it out, you will be blown away by the end. But seriously – pay attention or you won’t get it!

Chopsticks is a highly enjoyable “reading” experience that is truly more than meets the eye. I would definitely recommend this one.

Aya by Marguerite Abouet and Clement Oubrerie

Aya by Marguerite Abouet and Clement Oubrerie
Published in the US by Drawn and Quarterly

Aya lives in the Ivory Coast and is nineteen years old in 1978. She is smart, has a good head on her shoulders, and is destined for success – the quintessential good girl. Her friends, Adjoua and Bintou, aren’t as much so as Aya, and they get themselves into some interesting situations. In their home of Yop City, there is a marketplace where lovers meet at night, and what happens on these evenings soon becomes the town gossip.

I quite enjoy graphic novels from time to time, and I’d heard good things about Aya (I think from Eva but I can’t be sure) so when I saw my local library had it I couldn’t resist.

There were many things I enjoyed and appreciated about this book. I know almost zero about the Ivory Coast, so this was a nice peek into the culture there and the history of what was going on in that country in the late seventies. In fact, it made me want to read more books set in the Ivory Coast – any suggestions anyone? I liked Aya as a heroine quite a bit. She was a smart and determined teenager, trying to do the right things, but she still had fun with her friends. She felt realistic to me. I liked the illustrations quite a bit; they really brought the story to life for me. Sometimes when I read a graphic novel, I think the story is better than the illustrations or vice versa, but not in this case. I felt the story and the illustrations complemented one another beautifully.

If you enjoy graphic novels, Aya is one that shouldn’t be missed.

Brain Camp by Susan Kim, Lawrence Klavan, and Faith Erin Hicks

Brain CampBrain Camp written by Susan Kim and Lawrence Klavan, illustrated by Faith Erin Hicks
Published by First Second, an imprint of Macmillan

Jenna and Lucas are forced to attend summer camp by their parents. Once they arrive, they quickly realize two misfits are better together than apart, so they form a fast friendship. Things at camp seem okay for a while, but suddenly the two of them see some strange happenings – kids are disappearing, others are becoming strangely much smarter than their normal selves, and they see counselors sneaking into campers’ cabins at night. Jenna and Lucas quickly realize that they must get to the bottom of this before whatever is happening starts to happen to them too.

Typically, graphic novels are targeted toward a pre-teen and teenage audience, and while I’m much older than that, I tend to still get some kind of takeaway from them. Unfortunately, that wasn’t exactly the case with Brain Camp. While I didn’t dislike the book, I didn’t find anything of particular significance in it which admittedly made it difficult for me to really sink into the book.

I think the issue I’m having with Brain Camp is that I wasn’t expecting it to have such a strong sci-fi/body-snatchers vibe. Definitely this is my problem and not the book’s, but all the same when I understood where the plot was going I was not exactly thrilled. I don’t love these kinds of stories so I wasn’t surprised when I closed this book feeling less than excited about it.

But the good news is that this is just my opinion, based on my own bias toward these types of stories, which I almost never enjoy anyway. Brain Camp itself had really great artwork which I definitely liked, and an important message at its heart about how difficult it can be to fit in and how it’s so crucial to just be yourself even during those painful teenage years. So, yes, there are valuable and even excellent things about this book. But for me, I wasn’t jumping up and down about the overall experience.

So, while Brain Camp wasn’t my favorite graphic novel by a long shot, readers looking for a more lighthearted, funny story that involves some sci-fi elements will probably enjoy this one much more than I did.