Saturday, November 4, 2023

Today's read... Duel by Jessixa Bagley

I was tempted to shout-out a happy book birthday to today's read, but it doesn't release quite yet. Just three more days...which almost qualifies for a party. Almost.

Today's read isn't only a graphic novel for the middle grade audience (which I do enjoy diving into) but also surrounds a lesser known theme. Fencing is highlighted in this read and that with two normal sisters, who are dealing with their father's death. I'm excited to see how this one goes. 

by Jessixa Bagley
Illustrated by Aaron Bagley
Simon & Schuster
Middle Grade Contemporary  /   Graphic Novel
320 pages
ages 8 to 12


A rivalry between sisters culminates in a fencing duel in this funny and emotional debut graphic novel sure to appeal to readers of Raina Telgemeier and Shannon Hale.

Sixth grader Lucy loves fantasy novels and is brand-new to middle school. GiGi is the undisputed queen bee of eighth grade (as well as everything else she does). They’ve only got one thing in fencing. Oh, and they’re sisters. They never got along super well, but ever since their dad died, it seems like they’re always at each other’s throats.

When GiGi humiliates Lucy in the cafeteria on the first day of school, Lucy snaps and challenges GiGi to a duel with high sisterly stakes. If GiGi wins, Lucy promises to stay out of GiGi’s way; if Lucy wins, GiGi will stop teasing Lucy for good. But after their scene in the cafeteria, both girls are on thin ice with the principal and their mom. Lucy stopped practicing fencing after their fencer dad died and will have to get back to fighting form in secret or she’ll be in big trouble. And GiGi must behave perfectly or risk getting kicked off the fencing team.

As the clock ticks down to the girls’ fencing bout, the anticipation grows. Their school is divided into GiGi and Lucy factions, complete with t-shirts declaring kids’ allegiances. Both sisters are determined to triumph. But will winning the duel mean fracturing their family even further?

GOODREADS   /    AMAZON    /   B&N


A very toxic sibling relationship swirls around the memory of a father and the love for fencing.

Lucy and Gigi haven't been on good terms with each other sense the death of their father a couple of years before. When Lucy changes to the same middle school Gigi attends, their first meeting ends in disaster. Both are sent to the principal's office and given ample warning, but the two know there is only one way to end their feud. A duel will determine who gets the overhand.

This is a book about loss and the difficulty a family faces when trying to deal with grief and continue to live. The two sisters have just enough of an age gap to make the older one remember how much attention her younger sibling had from the father, while the younger one only sees the extra years the older one had to know their father. Both are jealous and both let the negative attitudes flow to the extreme. There is a lot of depth and emotion as the two go from one horrible situation to the next, never seeming to learn from any of it. The surrounding characters don't automatically draw sides and do show better judgement, which gives the book more balance. Plus, the mother is suffering and does admit fault as well. Still, the constant dislike and awful actions kept the negativity too high. The plot doesn't veer much from this thread, which will delight those who enjoy getting lost in characters' emotions. 

The fencing aspect was even stronger than I expected. Not only does Lucy spend time practicing and preparing for the upcoming duel, but the reader learns stances, techniques, terminology and more thanks to the quick facts at the beginning of each chapter. The ending duel is presented with care and allows each moment to sit, so nothing is missed. Fencing fans have quite a bit to look forward on this front.

And here they are...

Jessixa Bagley is children’s book author-illustrator with a background in fine art and comics. She has had work featured in publications such as New American PaintingsThe Chicago Reader, Nickelodeon Magazine, and Highlights Magazine. Her first picture book, Boats for Papa, received numerous awards and accolades including the 2016 SCBWI Golden Kite Award for picture book text and a 2016 Washington State Book Award. Her picture book Laundry Day received a 2018 Ezra Jack Keats Honor Award for writing. Many of her picture books are also Junior Library Guild Selections. In her work, she’s drawn to animals and emotional themes often inspired by her own experiences. Jessixa also teaches and speaks about writing and illustration. She often illustrates for other writers and artistically collaborates with her husband, Aaron Bagley. Jessixa lives in Seattle with her husband and son.

Aaron Bagley is a human man who draws for a living. He likes to draw what he observes (people, boats, cats) and what he experiences (dreams, feelings, life events). His work has been featured in The Virginia Quarterly ReviewThe StrangerThe Seattle WeeklyThe Seattle Review of Books, and many more. Above all else, Aaron loves collaborating with his wife, Jessixa. Together, they’ve created picture book Vincent Comes Home and middle grade graphic novel Duel.

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