Boxers by Gene Luen Yang – A Book Review

After teaching American Born Chinese for several years, I finally decided my (then) nine-year-old could handle it last fall.  She loved it, so when Gene Luen Yang came to our local library, we had to pay him a visit.  Unbelievably, we got there before anyone else and snagged a front row seat.  Mr. Yang was already there and held a wonderful conversation with my daughter.  He is truly an incredibly nice man and obviously a father of young children.

Because he made such a great impression on her, my daughter wanted to read everything by Gene Luen Yang.  She enjoyed Secret Coders, so I next grabbed her both Boxers and Saints as well.  Admittedly, I didn’t know much about either book.

She read them and made a few comments about them being a little bloody, then asked me to read them, too.  How could I say no?  I’m a fan of the author as well.

My daughter was right–these are bloody, violent books!  However, they are also very, very good.

Boxers takes place between 1894 and 1900.  Historically speaking, it deals with the Chinese uprising against Western invaders as well as Christian missionaries.  This all actually happened.

Yang focuses on Bao, a young man whose family, friends, and village has suffered at the hands of foreign influences and even Christians.  They are marginalized, bullied, and even killed for not conforming to outside forces.  Bao loves Chinese opera, specifically the many gods and goddesses featured therein.  As you know from American Born Chinese, Yang is particularly talented at infusing Chinese mythology into his stories.  Of course, in the case of Bao, these are not myths.  These gods and goddesses are reality, and he is soon able to harness their power.  He teaches others to harness their power as well, and this is the foundation of their strength against the bigger, better armed invaders that they confront.

The book culminates in the city of Peking.  There Bao must make his most difficult of decisions and face his ultimate challenge.

Boxers is a violent, complex book.  While I don’t regret letting my (then) nine-year-old read it, I should have done a little research and provided a bit more guidance as she devoured it.  It presents the very ugly, brutal side of colonialism and even Christian evangelism.  However, it also brilliantly depicts Bao compromising his “gut” feelings of right and wrong versus what he thinks is best for his nation.  Bao kills innocent Christian women and children in this book, but from his perspective, they are not innocent.  They are foreign devils trying to destroy his culture and people.

Yang himself is a Christian, so please don’t get on his case about this.  He’s depicting a character rooted in historical events and using him to explore obvious complexities that actually occurred.  The Chinese who did not conform were beaten and killed mercilessly.  The Boxers did the same to their adversaries.

Rest assured, Yang does not deal with any of this lightly.  He clearly put a lot of thought into how he wanted to execute this story.  I found it thoughtful, tasteful, and fair in relation to historical precedent.

I will admit, though, because of Yang’s drawing style, the violence jarred me.  This would have been a very different book by any other artist.  While there is blood, head shots, beatings, and even mass murder, Yang doesn’t make any of it gratuitous.  At the same time, though, he also doesn’t shy away from what’s happening.  At one point, Bao decides to burn a church with Christians inside of it.  Yang doesn’t soften this horrific event, but he also doesn’t sensationalize it.

As you can tell, Boxers deeply resonated with me.  I completely recommend it.  I do think it’s okay for children, but I would urge you to guide them through it (unlike what I did).  There is much to be learned from the book, to be sure.

I’ll review Boxers‘ accompanying title, Saints, soon!

Image result for boxers book cover

(Did you enjoy this review?  Check out Scott William Foley’s latest book HERE!)

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Dr. Nekros’ First Review Is In!

Thanks so much to Jen Weaver! She not only wrote a very flattering review regarding Dr. Nekros: Book One, but she also managed to be the first ever to do so!  I am so appreciative that she took the time and effort to say a few words about my book.

If you want to read what she said, click HERE!

DR NEKROS BOOK ONE E EDITION COVER

 

Ella Minnow Pea by Mark Dunn – A Book Review

I took a chance on this very quick read after a friend recommended it.

Ella Minnow Pea is a unique concept.  The premise is that a small island exists off the coast of South Carolina.  This entire island’s culture is based upon Nevin Nollop, the man responsible for the blessed phrase: “The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog.”

Though a literate, incredibly well-spoken people, the island’s inhabitants are thrown into complete disarray as a statue of Nollop begins to lose letters from the sacred phrase.  They take these jettisoned letters as spiritual intervention, and so they remove each letter from usage as it falls.

Because the book is written as literal correspondence between characters, a dark farce ensues.  The messages begin missing those outlawed letters, and, by book’s end, the notes between characters are nearly incomprehensible.

To make matters worse, the town punishes anyone caught using the banned letters.  Beatings, exile, even death can result as a byproduct of usage.  Things get very bleak very quickly, yet the circumstances continuously remain hilarious.

While the story itself did not make a lasting impact upon me, Mark Dunn’s execution absolutely impressed.  To literally omit those letters banned by the town in the actual story — that’s no easy feat!  I enjoyed the structure, construction, and style of the book immensely, and I would recommend reading it for that experience alone.

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(Did you enjoy this review?  Check out Scott William Foley’s short stories HERE!)

Lost Stars by Claudia Gray – A Book Review

I’ve read the majority of the new books and graphic novels promoted as “Journey to Star Wars: The Force Awakens” and this one is, by far, my favorite.

Lost Stars accomplished something that doesn’t happen very often – I could not wait to read it.  I looked forward to getting in bed at the end of the day and diving into this one.  I love to read, don’t misunderstand, but I do so more out of habit than a daily burning passion.  Believe me, I felt authentic excitement for Lost Stars.

The story follows a man named Thane Kyrell and a woman called Ciena Ree.  Though from very different cultures upon the same planet, they befriend one another as children due to their shared passion for star ships.  In fact, after the Empire annexes their world, they cannot wait to join the Imperial Academy in order to navigate the stars.  They both believe in the law and order the Empire provides to the galaxy and want to be a part of the greatness.

Once old enough, they attend and graduate from the Imperial Academy.  Both are standouts and on the fast track to success within the Imperial Fleet.  Before long, they begin to realize their friendship may not be as simple as they thought, and each also realizes their impression of the Empire may have been incorrect.

What happens, though, when one of them decides to leave and the other wants to enact change from within?  What happens when one is a traitor and the other is an Imperial Officer?  What happens when these bitter enemies want nothing more than to save each other’s life, even when it puts them at odds with their respective affiliations?

I loved this book first and foremost because the pacing is masterful.  It starts off a little slow as we get to know the characters as youngsters, but as they age, their situations become far more complex, and by the end of the book I couldn’t read fast enough as their story reached a crescendo.  The various levels of conflict between Thane and Ciena is absolutely riveting.

Furthermore, it proved unique because it provided a previously unrealized perspective in that we see the destruction of the Death Star, the battle at Hoth, and even the conflict of Endor primarily from the Empire’s point of view.  Before this book, it never dawned on me that Luke Skywalker killed thousands of people on the Death Star when he blew it up.  I never even considered the loss of Imperial life.  Our two characters make us care about those loss upon the space station, those who they considered friends.  They make me think of the average Imperial as a person rather than a faceless, evil monster.

And that’s really the magic of Lost Stars.  It made me think about familiar things in a new light.  It made me consider duty versus loyalty.  It forced me to reflect upon the murky middle ground between good and evil.

At 551 pages, this is not a short read, but it pulls you in so fast and so deep that you won’t even mind the length.  In fact, if you’re like me, you won’t want it to end.  Thane and Ciana are now two of my favorite Star Wars characters forevermore.

… I’ll say it: I hope they adapt this book to film.  I’ll be the first in line.

Star Wars: Shattered Empire by Rucka – A Book Review

This graphic novel collection is better than you’ve heard.  The cover is very misleading – the book actually features Shara Bey, a rebel pilot present at the destruction of the second Death Star.  She and her husband, Kes Dameron, serve in separate divisions, rarely getting to spend any time together.  Yes, these are the parents of Poe Dameron, the spunky pilot from The Force Awakens.

The book picks up during the celebration on Endor, but Shara soon finds herself completing missions with Han Solo, Leia Organa, and even Luke Skywalker.  The aftermath of the Skywalker mission proves particularly interesting and I have to wonder if its ending will play a significant role in the current movies.

So, to be clear, Shara is the star of this series, but don’t let that keep you from giving it a shot.  She’s a very likable character and you still get lots of time with your old favorites.  Greg Rucka is a very good writer – you can trust him to execute his craft well.

I also found the art dynamic and detailed as it progressed the fast pace of the plot.

I had no issues with this collection and enjoyed it very much.  Do be aware, however, that it includes the first issue of Princess Leia, as well as the very first issue of Star Wars from 1977.

Star Wars: Moving Target by Castellucci and Fry – A Book Review

Set between The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, Moving Target is a Princess Leia adventure showcasing her bravery, intelligence, and selflessness.

Han Solo has been frozen in carbonite, and though Leia yearns to rescue him, her loyalty to the Alliance must come first.  She volunteers to act as a decoy in order to distract the Empire as the rebels need time to plan their next move.

Unfortunately, her ruse may cost uninformed rebels their lives, and that’s something she just can’t live with.

Though this fast-paced book is aimed at a younger audience, I very much enjoyed it because it delivers  fresh aspect of Leia.  This Leia is not a damsel in distress nor regulated to a mere love interest.  This Leia is a politician, a strategist, a leader, and a warrior.  This Leia very much made me believe she could be the face of a rebellion and inspire thousands to join the fight.

Though appropriate for a young readers, I think Star Wars fans of any age will find this book riveting.  It also serves as a nice bridge between The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi while offering a glimpse at the Leia of The Force Awakens.