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Teenage Aliera can take on any of her fencing opponents without fear, but when it comes to life, she has a little bit more trouble. After her mom buys her a practice foil with a strange gem glued to it and she catches the eye of the cute new boy, Avery, her world gets much more interesting.
Written by the legendary Jane Yolen with art by Mike Cavallaro and published by First Second — would you really expect Foiled to be anything other than amazing? I am very biased toward girls-with-swords stories, but I haven’t loved a graphic novel this much in a long time.
Aliera is likable and very real. Her narration has a quiet strength, even through her self-doubt and confusion. Yolen’s subtle details — Aliera listens to Ani DiFranco and Loreena McKennitt and plays role-playing games with her cousin — presents a portrait of a smart girl who is just on the cusp of coming into herself. Her interactions with Avery have the right balance of awkwardness on both sides. She’s a smart girl who is maybe a little too self-aware for her own good. Aliera is one of those rare teenage girl characters that is incredibly genuine and is like someone we all knew (or possibly were).
Cavallaro’s art gives these characters strong personalities. Emotions are conveyed through simple lines and wide, open eyes reveal the characters’ wonder. His teenagers look like teenagers with small bodies and soft faces (I also like how pretty girl Sally is only a little prettier than Aliera herself, but it’s all a manner of degrees when you’re a teenager, and Aliera can’t see herself as others do). He shows the action of the fencing scenes with animated, sweeping movements. I can’t imagine this story being drawn by anyone else — he’s such a perfect complement to Yolen that I think it wouldn’t have been as good in someone else’s hands.
And because this is Yolen, elements of fantasy do come into it, perhaps unexpectedly for some, but both creators handle it delightfully. Most of the book is colored with washes of gray until Aliera’s fencing mask reveals another reality to her (in Grand Central Station, no less) where bright primary colors begin to fill the pages. Even when you know it’s coming (as I did), it’s still a powerful, transformative moment. It’s a good example of the awesome things comics can do.
I know that there’s going to be another (eventually) but for now, I’m just going to be content to read this repeatedly.