Fence: Striking Distance by Sarah Rees Brennan

I don’t know much about fencing, but luckily you don’t need to in order to enjoy Fence: Striking Distance by Sarah Rees Brennan. Based on comics by C.S. Pacat and Johanna the Mad, Fence tells the story of the skilled but disorganized fencing team at private school King’s Row as their coach tries to use a series of team bonding exercises to bring them together and enhance their effectiveness.

Aiden (flirt extraordinaire) hates the idea of team bonding, but loves Harvard (though he couldn’t possibly tell him that), so he tries to go along. Harvard (team captain) loves his team but isn’t so good at doing things for himself, so at Coach’s suggestion he tries to date. But he has no idea what he’s doing, so he asks Aiden for help – forcing them both to reckon with what their feelings really are. Freshmen Nicholas and Seiji are mismatched roommates and (according to Nicholas) also friends. For Nicholas, this means trying to measure up to Seiji’s last friend, fencing prodigy Jesse, in hopes that someday Nicholas and Seiji will be best friends – or at least fencing rivals. Seiji isn’t where he expected to be, not at King’s Row or in friendship with Nicholas. He’s not sure who he is or wants to be, but he knows he wants to be the best, at fencing and at teamwork (if he has to). So he’s going to do whatever it takes to be a good friend. Along for the ride is the fifth teammate, Eugene, who wants all his bros to get along.

The book didn’t actually include much fencing, but it did a great job showing each character’s perspective, making them each unique individuals with their own backgrounds and concerns. The best descriptor for all the characters is “oblivious”. They’re so oblivious it’s endearing; trying to do the right thing but failing to use basic communication skills leads the whole bunch on a comedy of errors that almost (but not quite) resolves by the end. Both characters and plot rely on stereotype and formula, but for me it was a restful experience. If you like character-driven sports stories, fencing, deep and adorable friendships, a bit of romance, and a lot of miscommunication, you might like this book as much as I did.

The original graphic novel series is also available to put on hold through our catalog and on Overdrive, and a sequel (Fence: Disarmed) was released in May and might be available soon through interlibrary loan.

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