Page 15 was when I fell in love with this book. The main character, Aliera Carstairs, stares at the reader after talking about her life and her hobby of fencing and simply says “One is a sport, and one is… not.” With a slight smirk that comes from knowing the answer, she invites the reader to decide which is which and come into her world. I wish all comic books would be so welcoming.
“Foiled” is one of the newest books from :01 Books, a friend of this blog, and is written by Jane Yolen and illustrated by Mike Cavallaro.
It tells the story of Aliera, an avid fencer who has taken the rules of the game (“Guarding her heart”) and applied to her real life, something that severely tested when Avery Castle, the most gorgeous boy in school, is chosen to be her lab partner. Like would happen with any teenager, awkwardness ensues.
Yolen is a terrific writer, which is shown in her command of her characters, who all sound incredibly real. Aliera, while not your typical teenager, sounds like a real girl in her dialogue and narration, something that I always enjoy reading. Aliera is an engaging character and her narration never grows stale. She is self-conscious, she is shy and nervous. She is incredibly uncomfortable and that makes her an joy to read, as so many books nowadays seem to ignore genuine young voices. One of my favorite lines from the book was “If this was love, why did it feel like electrocution?”
And be prepared to learn about fencing. Yolen has integrated the sport so much into the story, that it is even divided up into a fencing routine of sorts, with each section named a different fencing term. But as the story ascends into the more fantastical moments, it adds to Aliera’s strength as a fighter to know that she knows and has basically perfected these movements.
I wouldn’t go so far as to say this is a fantasy book. There are definitely fantasy element involved, but I would say that it fits more in the sub-genre of “Magical Realism,” a style that blends the magical with the real “in order to access a deeper understanding of reality.” It is attempting to tell the story of a girl growing up, but life is filled with so many imperfect emotions and moments, that Yolen has integrated both real and magical elements to tell her story.
And she is backed up by the wonderful art of Mike Cavallaro. For those who follow comic book artists, his work is similar in style to Becky Cloonan, an artist I’ve recently fell in love with. Cavallaro’s work is an amalgam of the American and Japanese styles, with the over-exaggerated faces of anger and sadness that pop up, as well as the monster designs showing the flashes of the East, while the character movements and layout are definitely American, with one scene playing out like a more complex version of the old “Family Circus” cartoons that show Billy’s way home. And his color work is a beautiful palette of gray, which is great because not only does it just look fantastic, it also reflects the world view of Aliera, who is color blind. Cavallaro is an extremely talented artist whose work seems perfectly matched up with Yolen’s words.
And what is simultaneously exciting and frustrating is that this book is clearly not the last part of this story. While it can stand on its own, it is clearly meant to be the beginning of a longer tale that will hopefully be out soon. “Foiled” is a great book that is a breezy read and continually charming. It is available now.
All artwork is copyright of :01 Books