SCROLL DOWN TO READ THE POST
Round 1, Match 2: Boxers and Saints vs A Corner of White
JUDGE – Yuyi Morales
|Boxers & Saints
by Gene Luen Yang
|A Corner of White
by Jaclyn Moriarty
Arthur Levine Books/Scholastic
A CORNER OF WHITE vs BOXERS AND SAINTS. One a 373 page fantasy novel, the other a two volume graphic novel. Where do I start? Actually, I know a good place. Let’s begin experiencing the books by their covers.
BOXERS AND SAINTS, even before I took the two volumes out of their box, the narrative had begun. On the spines, the two half faces of the protagonist (one on each book, opposite each other, yet completing one whole face) already told me of the interconnection of two stories, one male, one female, both faces stricken with fury or grief. On the front cover of each volume, an alternating figure accompanied, almost hinting at an alter ego or an avatar. I should mention that once I had read the books, I couldn’t make them fit back in the box any more. My husband, who helped me unpack the books from the box after I tried putting them back in place, offered the explanation: The books were now full of my thoughts and imagination.
But to tell you the truth the cover of A CORNER OF WHITE is really where my problems began. I confess that when looking at the windy, park-like green scene, where a smiley and also uncannily elongated girl (I smell Photoshop enhancement) on red raining boots held a glowing piece of paper —which might or might not be a note— to her lips, I could have never imagined that this book would be a rich fantasy about disappeared, injured, and even dead people, a crack that connects two worlds, and the rather regular violent attack of colors.
But it is now time to open the books and let the real battle begin. In A CORNER OF WHITE, written by Jaclyn Moriarty, teenagers Madeleine and Eliot are able to exchange correspondence through a crack that connects both of their worlds, a home schooled girl in Cambridge and a farm boy from the kingdom of Cello.
Those who speak English as their first language might have never experienced what I call character confusion (or maybe it is just my particular scattered brain), but for people like me, narratives in English filled with names, many characters’ names, with first and last names, sometimes described first by the official name and then by how they are called (“His name was Giacomo Cagnetti, but he went by Jack… (she) was Annabel Pettifields (but she went by Belle)),” will almost surely call for extra measures, such as note taking, or second and even third readings, in order to avoid getting completely confused whether it is in the land of storytelling, in Cambridge England, or in the Kingdom of Cello. It is never a good start for me when my brain struggles to keep an account of characters and their names galore.
A CORNER OF WHITE also has a slow start. Madeleine lives in the World with her mother and her sewing machine, missing a life of comfort and richness after having run away from her father. In the Kingdom of Cello, Elliot, a popular kid, looks for his father who disappeared after a Purple attack, which also left his uncle dead. I found the color’s attacks confusing too, only easier to accept as the narrative progressed and the disbelief was set aside. The story of Madeleine seemed to lack clear intention too at first. But then, something fascinating happened, and it all started for me with Newton. “You know what Isaac Newton did when he was here at Cambridge?” the computer teacher asks Madeleine and his friends, “…he chose twelve problems and made a promise to himself that he’d solve them in the next twelve months.”
As Madeleine and Elliot begin exchanging messages through a crack in parking meter/TV sculpture, and their lives start to connect, the novel takes on an emotional tone. Madeleine learns to mend her relationship with her friends, her chosen life, and her mother. While she shares her world with Elliot, the lesson suggests that deep inside she, and Elliot (and even the reader, in fact) know the answers to most of their problems. Alongside the plot thickens. Both Madeleine and Elliot discover the truth about their absent fathers. The theory of colors, and even Isaac Newton and his problem solving methods play a central role in the narrative. Reality and fantasy melt. A magical butterfly child is found. Madeleine’s mother’s health unravels. Elliot learns about love and loyalty. The mystery of the missing people begins to shed light. The ending sets up the sequel while offering a satisfying solution to the interconnection between the World and the Kingdom of Cello. Future action and adventure becomes a promise. A book that at first made me stop midpage and go back to the beginning three times in an attempt to help make sense of it, becomes the moving reading of a meaningful story.
What A CORNER OF WHITE and BOXERS AND SAINTS have in common is that they both filled me with urgent emotions. BOXERS AND SAINTS actually made me throw the book against the table twice. I was annoyed at the beginning, and enraged at the end. How is it that a book can make one feel so much? Gene Luen Yang seems to know how to use his storytelling abilities, both in writing and in images, to create such a power. BOXERS AND SAINTS is a two-point of view narrative of the Boxer Rebellion that took part at the turn of the 20th Century in China. BOXERS tells the story of Little Bao, lover of the opera, who becomes a leader in the fights to eradicate the growing Western Catholic menace that is destroying the traditional Chinese way of life. In SAINTS, Four-Girl, a Chinese young woman, struggles to find acceptance among her family who deem her bad luck at birth and later a demon. She finds in her affiliation to the Christian Missions, the acceptance, a name (Vibiana), and the purpose her family has denied her.
As in A CORNER OF WHITE, the stories of these two characters connect, although in the case of BOXERS AND SAINTS it might be more accurate to say that they collide. Both Vibiana and Bao go trough their transformation from children to warriors in their own way with the help of mystical figures. Bao learns how to conjure the power of ancient gods (the battle scenes are epic, colorful, and unforgettably violent) and he teaches his brothers and friends how to use this power to inspire a mighty rebellion against what they call the foreign devils. On her part Vibiana finds inspiration and guidance from the spirit of Joan of Arc, who visits her in the form of a golden apparition. Set on opposite sides of the conflict, Bao and Vibiana portray the humanity of a struggle and the willingness to sacrifice themselves for the beliefs that sustain them. There is no happy ending for this story. There seems to be no justice neither for Bao or for Vibiana. What BOXERS and SAINTS seem to suggest is that in a conflict of beliefs there is never a winner. It all ends with me throwing the book against the wall again. Only a master storyteller can make me do that.
And so my winner is BOXERS AND SAINTS.
— Yuyi Morales
Just because I want “the kids’ books” doesn’t mean I’m not impressed by these stories. Between brilliant Colors and vengeful gods, we have some powerful forces at work here. Ms. Morales is right: you just want to throw Boxers and Saints against the wall. It runs the gamut of emotions in a spectacularly original way; it is full of heart and brutal tragedy. A Corner of White comes together beautifully in the end, but it’s slow and somewhat incoherent: Boxers and Saints is the thriller. I’m not sure if The Animal Book stands any chance,. Either way, between these two winners, March: Book One, What the Heart Knows, and some remarkable fiction, we have some unique competitors here. (By the way, it’s interesting discussing the covers. First impressions are a big deal.)
– Kid Commentator RGN
THE WINNER OF ROUND 1 MATCH 2:
About Battle Commander
The Battle Commander is the nom de guerre for children’s literature enthusiasts Monica Edinger and Roxanne Hsu Feldman, fourth grade teacher and middle school librarian at the Dalton School in New York City and Jonathan Hunt, the County Schools Librarian at the San Diego County Office of Education. All three have served on the Newbery Committee as well as other book selection and award committees. They are also published authors of books, articles, and reviews in publications such as the New York Times, School Library Journal, and the Horn Book Magazine. You can find Monica at educating alice and on twitter as @medinger. Roxanne is at Fairrosa Cyber Library and on twitter as @fairrosa. Jonathan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
SLJ Blog Network