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. As a former fencer, I was thrilled to see that Yolen made a teen female the hero of her graphic fantasy novel AND a fencer. Girl power!
High schooler Aliera Carstairs 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, grooming her for nationals, advises Aliera to “always guard your heart”: advice she takes very seriously both on and off the strip. Aliera vists her wheelchair-bound cousin and best friend Caroline every week to play role-playing games.
Aliera’s mom, a compulsive bargain shopper, picks up a fencing foil at a garage sale; Aliera 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.
In Grand Central Station, things take a Neil Gaiman-esque turn. There, Aliera stumbles on a fantasy world that connects her, Avery, and her unusual foil.
Foiled leaves the reader hungry for a second helping. Aliera, Avery and Caroline are all vibrant, interesting characters, and even when Aliera is at her most guarded, the reader wants 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 and the fencing sketches 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.