Review: Duel by Jessixa and Aaron Bagley

Duel by Jessixa and Aaron Bagley cover shows two girls wearing backpacks, standing with their backs to one another. One girl's arms are crossed. Their shadows cross fencing swords.

Jessixa Bagley
Illustrated by Aaron Bagley
Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
Published November 7, 2023

Amazon | Bookshop | Goodreads

About Duel

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?

Duel on Goodreads

My Review

I love books about sisters, and this one is no exception. I liked both GiGi and Lucy, though sometimes it was hard to read the awful ways they treated one another. It was clear that their grief over losing their dad drove much of the hurtful behavior. I especially liked Sasha, Lucy’s best friend, who helps her practice her fencing moves and tries to offer a gentle perspective on how GiGi is behaving.

Each chapter begins with a fencing term or move and a short explanation. I enjoyed learning a little bit about fencing. Some of the terms were vaguely familiar from fencing scenes in movies, but the book gave me more of a perspective on those terms. I also liked the way the term at the beginning of the chapter connected to what would happen during the chapter.

GiGi, Lucy, and their mom all realize that their grief has isolated them and hurt their other family members. I got all teary in several of the scenes where they explore those feelings. I loved that the story has both that strong emotional arc and an active, physical story through fencing. Those elements were balanced really nicely.

I hope this team continues to write graphic novels. I would absolutely read more.

Duel on Bookshop

Content Notes

Recommended for Ages 8 to 12.

Lucy and GiGi are Black.

Profanity/Crude Language Content

Romance/Sexual Content

Spiritual Content

Violent Content
Explanations of fencing techniques and moves.

Drug Content

Note: This post contains affiliate links, which do not cost you anything to use but which help support this blog. I received a free copy of DUEL in exchange for my honest review.

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About Kasey

Reads things. Writes things. Fluent in sarcasm. Willful optimist. Cat companion, chocolate connoisseur, coffee drinker. There are some who call me Mom.

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