I admit that I am a biased Gene Luen Yang fan. Having said that, Yang’s 2013 book Boxers did not disappoint. Was it slightly problematic, and did it end on an unresolved note? That would be an astounding, “Yes!” But would it really be a Gene Yang book if it wasn’t?
Yang is incredibly adept at storytelling. Boxers begins in 1894 in China and tells the story of the Boxer Rebellion through the eyes of Little Bao, a village boy who desperately wants to be of use. As per usual, Yang blends history, folk tales, and the search for identity with clear and expressive art. Also as per usual are the normative heterosexism and gender roles. However, unlike American Born Chinese, Boxers takes some time probing the perceived and actual roles of women and includes a more central, strong, and resourceful female character.
Part of what I find so compelling about Yang’s work is the way that he introduces ideas but doesn’t offer clear commentary about them. Instead, Yang uses the flow of the narrative to create moments of tension that had me injecting my own thoughts on the characters’ actions. This, to me, is the most special thing Yang does. He questions Socratically, steps back, and lets the reader draw their own conclusions.
Bottom line: Pick up Boxers, and while you’re at it, pick up its companion volume, Saints to read both sides of the story.