Monday, July 25, 2016

Book Review: Saints by Gene Luen Yang

Saints written and illustrated by Gene Luen Yang

In the mid-1880s, a girl is born into a Chinese family. She was the fourth daughter, though her three older sisters are already dead. The family doesn't name her and takes to calling her "Four-Girl." "Four" is a homonym for "death," so it's sort of a joke. She's isn't well respected. Her grandfather even calls her a devil. She embraces this and starts making a devilish face. After a while, her mother can't stand it any longer and takes Four-Girl to an acupuncturist who sometimes works for free. Four-Girl is nervous about getting pins stuck in her and is all the more worried when she sees a crucifix in the doctor's office. The man has such big pins stuck in him! But the acupuncturist is gentle and kind. He makes Four-Girl laugh which breaks her devil face. He's a Christian, which to the traditional-minded Chinese means he worships a foreign devil. She's ready to adopt this new devilishness, since the doctor seems to offer the love and support that her own family has failed to give her. She studies to be a Christian, which causes her trouble, especially as she grows older. She runs away and has a vision of Joan of Arc in the forest. Joan becomes a role-model for Four-Girl, who takes the name Vibiana when she is baptized. Her Christian life starts just as the Boxer Rebellion, a nationalist uprising against the influence of foreigners in China, begins persecuting Christians.

This book is a companion volume to Boxers, which tells a story of the Boxer Rebellion from the other side. I haven't read that as of writing this review but definitely will (library, here I come!). Vibiana's story is a fine blend of realistic life and child-like fantasy and wishing. She alternates between charming and frustrating for the other characters and the reader. She's not a perfect heroine, but she has a great story.

Highly recommended!

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