Wednesday, March 3, 2010
Review – “Foiled” by Jane Yolen and Mike Cavallaro
2010. First Second Books, New York. 160 pages.
Recommended Reading Age: 16+
Role-playing games. Fencing. Frog dissection. Enya. Boys who can only be described as 'beautiful'. Foiled's narrator and protagonist Aliera Carstairs (that's a mouthful, no?) loves 'em all. Okay, maybe not frog dissection. In Foiled, Aliera (who also narrates) tells a tale of teenage awkwardness that is compounded by her love of all things Geek. And when she finds out that the 'weapon' (i.e. fencing sword or 'foil') that her mother picked up at a thrift store is actually Aliera's ticket to a real fantasy world of faeries, dragons, gnomes and the like, it seems like fitting in at school is the least of her worries.
Unfortunately, even an inexperienced reader sees the high-school-drama-turned-fantasy plot coming a mile away, and the payoff falls flat. When after nearly 100 excruciatingly slow-paced pages in which Aliera obsesses over the new boy in school, the author (an accomplished YA writer, nonetheless) finally reveals in full the fantastic 'twist', it's far too late to save the narrative. Too much time has been devoted to rote teenage angst and schmaltzy friendships here, and as a result Aliera comes off as a whiny good-girl bookworm whom it is difficult for the reader to care about. (Don't even get me started on the 'strong female protagonist' trope in so common in YA literature; too transparently are the authors' personalities projected onto their female leads, and in reality many 'average' students find these protagonists unbearable.)
While at first blush the art of Foiled is impressive, as an experienced comics reader I find it in direct opposition to the narrative. While the story itself is straightforward to the point of being unoriginal, the perspective and panel layouts seem to be trying too hard to make a statement. Devoting a two-page spread of Grand Central Station (even if it is beautifully drawn), for instance, does not serve the greater purpose of advancing the plot. Such an iconic image need not be reproduced here, and though it is only one example of a misuse of using a visual narrative, it is a telling one. This is only one of many moments I found myself racing through in order to get the 'big reveal'.
Foiled's storytelling is too predictable, its characterization too familiar, and its art too disconnected to be a fun read. Simply put, I would not recommend this book for a school or classroom library
Posted by Eric Federspiel