Jane Yolen is a pretty popular children’s author; I’m familiar with her because I read her books to my kids when they were little. When I saw her graphic novel, Foiled, on the bookshelf at my bookstore, I had to pick it up.
High schooler Aliera Carstairs doesn’t fit in. She doesn’t gel with the goths (“I don’t look good in black”), the nerds (“my grades aren’t high enough”), or the jocks (“fencing doesn’t count”), but she’s dynamic on the fencing strip. Her coach is grooming her for nationals and advises Aliera to “always guard her heart” – a double meaning if ever there was one – both on and off the strip. When she’s not fencing, Aliera visits Caroline, her wheelchair-bound cousin, to play role-playing games.
When Aliera’s mom, a compulsive bargain shopper, picks up a fencing foil at a garage sale, Aliera initially plans to use it as a practice foil once she shaves off a big, fake ruby that’s been glued to it. Around the same time she receives the foil, she meets a new boy in school, Avery Castle, who’s a little odd but has all the girls vying for his attention. He asks Aliera on a date and they agree to meet in Grand Central Station after fencing practice. Having never been on a date, she’s nervous but accepts. Once the action moves to Grand Central, things take a very Neil Gaiman-esque turn when Aliera stumbles onto a fantasy world that connects her, Avery and the foil.
Hold up! A teen female protagonist who’s a competitive fencer AND a tabletop gamer? Jane Yolen, I could hug you. Yolen goes for it in creating a realistic female character who goes against the grain and isn’t portrayed as a freak, weirdo, or villain. And as a former amateur fencer and a tabletop gamer myself, I was bouncing off the walls at finally seeing a character I could relate to, even if it is about 20-something years after the fact.
Foiled leaves readers wanting more. She creates characters with depth and weaves a fantastic world into a realistic setting – but you can totally see it happening. The dialogue respects younger readers, never talking down to them, and Michael Cavallaro’s artwork is magical. You can believe that there is a hidden fantasy world tucked away within Grand Central. Walk in there after reading this book and try to think otherwise. Check Foiled out, then go check out the sequel, Curses! Foiled Again!
Story by: Jane Yolen
Art By: Michael Cavallaro
Cover By: Michael Cavallaro
First Second Books, ISBN #1596432799
*An earlier version of this review can be found on Mom Read It.