Review of Duel

Duel Duel
by Jessixa Bagley; illus. by Aaron Bagley
Middle School    Simon    320 pp.
11/23    9781534496552    $24.99
Paper ed.  9781534496545    $14.99
e-book ed.  9781534496569    $10.99

Fantasy-loving Lucy and her perfectionist older sister, Gigi, have been fighting ever since their dad’s passing. When Gigi, a popular eighth grader, trips Lucy in the lunchroom on her first day of middle school, Lucy can’t take it anymore: she publicly challenges Gigi, “the best fencer in school,” to a duel. (Gigi: “A…duel?!…Fencers don’t have duels—we have bouts.”) The two are called to the principal’s office for a meeting alongside their grief-stricken, overworked mom. Though a bout is forbidden, the sisters plan one anyway to be held during upcoming fencing team tryouts. As the two prepare to compete, they begin to process and address (with friends, their mother, and each other) some of the ways that their father’s death has affected them. A satisfying, hopeful conclusion includes a heartfelt note from the creators explaining the graphic novel’s real-life inspirations. Aaron Bagley’s coarse line and hand lettering–based font give the illustrations a natural, raw feel. The beginning of each chapter resembles a page from a fencing guide, connecting to the well-paced plot and scaffolding readers’ understanding. Color-coded inset boxes showcasing the siblings’ personal thoughts and vulnerabilities add further depth to their characters; tender blue-hued flashback scenes allow the girls’ father and his memory to be ever-present. A down-to-earth and emotional family story.

From the November/December 2023 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Elisa Gall

Elisa Gall is a teacher-librarian at the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools. 

Be the first reader to comment.

Comment Policy:
  • Be respectful, and do not attack the author, people mentioned in the article, or other commenters. Take on the idea, not the messenger.
  • Don't use obscene, profane, or vulgar language.
  • Stay on point. Comments that stray from the topic at hand may be deleted.
  • Comments may be republished in print, online, or other forms of media.
  • If you see something objectionable, please let us know. Once a comment has been flagged, a staff member will investigate.



We are currently offering this content for free. Sign up now to activate your personal profile, where you can save articles for future viewing.