Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Book Review: Foiled, by Jane Yolen; illustrated by Mike Cavallaro (First Second, 2010)

Recommended for ages 12+

I love Jane Yolen's books - her How Do Dinosaurs... series have a very special place on my bookshelf; they provided hours of cuddle time and giggles for my boys and I when they were younger. Her Commander Toad series was my older son's logical next step after enjoying Frog and Toad's adventures. And, as a former fencer, I was thrilled to see that not only did Yolen make a teen female the hero of her graphic fantasy novel, she made her a fencer. Girl power!

Aliera Carstairs is a high school girl who doesn't fit in. She doesn't fit in 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 she takes his advice to "always guard your heart" very seriously, on and off the strip. Her best friend is her wheelchair-bound cousin Caroline, who Aliera visits every week to play role-playing games with.

Aliera's mom, a compulsive bargain shopper, picks up a fencing foil at a garage sale that Aliera plans to keep as a practice foil once she shaves off a big fake ruby that's been glued onto it. Around the same time as she gets the foil, she meets a new boy in school, Avery Castle, who has all the girls vying for his attention - but he's a little odd. He asks Aliera on a date and they agree to meet in Grand Central Station after her fencing practice. Having never been on a date, she's nervous but accepts.

It's in Grand Central Station that things get interesting. In a Neil Gaiman-esque turn of events, Aliera stumbles on a fantasy world where that connects her, Avery, and her unusual foil.

Foiled leaves off leaving the reader waiting for a second helping. Aliera, Avery and Caroline are all vibrant, interesting characters, even when Aliera is at her most guarded - you want to get behind her fencing armor and find out what makes her tick. Older 'tween and young teen readers alike will enjoy the blending of fantasy into a reality-based setting, and teachers could use this novel in a fairy tale/mythology unit for older readers. The artwork never talks down to the book's audience, portraying kids as kids rather than caricatures; the fantasy creatures are brightly colored and drawn straight from a vivid imagination. The fencing drawings are dynamic.

Jane Yolen's website contains information for both students and teachers, an archive of awards the author has received, book trailers, and a link to her blog.

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