I read several graphic novels recently with diverse, modern casts. One of them, Duel by Jessixa Bagley, left me with two things. The first was I was not sure about a couple characters. I read Duel via a physical reader copy and the images were not complete (some were sketches, not fully fleshed out and color was not added). Though I was enjoying Aaron Bagley’s expressive artwork when we were able to see a larger image. There are hair-raising moments, images of the fencing, the goofiness of Lucy (one of our main characters) trying to “suit up” for the duel between the sisters, and all add compassion, humor and touch on the seriousness. And I am sure if they had been completed, my question of, “Is the family at the center of our story biracial?” would have been answered. If yes, it would help flesh out some characters for me. Like is Gran the paternal or maternal grandmother? And if the mother is white what does that mean for the overall story?
The second is it was a great learning experience and relatable. I loved how the relationship between the sisters, Gigi and Lucy, was so realistic. I was Gigi: the big sister, feeling like everyone expected me to be perfect, but feeling like I let everyone down. And I was with her when she was dealing with younger sister, Lucy. You cannot hate someone as much as those girls seemed to hate each other if there was not some deep love going on. I lost my mother (not father as the girls do) as an adult, but the emotions were the same. And I could relate to the mothers feelings (as an adult dealing with grief). And I really enjoyed the dual point of view (each girl tells her side of things). This really gets into things, showing us how the facts are A B and C, but the girls can interpret them completely differently. And we see their fears, their worries, their relationships with each other, their family and friends uniquely. This, of course, ties in with the physical fencing duel the two get themselves into that is against each other.
The learning comes from how I love the fact that fencing is mentioned (I do not think I have read a book about fencing for ages 10 and up before). In their afterwards Bagely mentions how her main character’s fencing was inspired by her own love of the sport. And the chapters are set up to have a fencing term, move, etc. starting things and having the theme of the chapter fit that particular situation. This metaphor works throughout the entire story and is a fun, fresh way of presenting a familar story arc. There is potential for sequels to follow other characters. Reminiscent of Terri Libenson’s series among the other greats of sibling and friendship stories.