Roller Derby Is on the Rise

BookendsCindy: Watch out Raina Telgemeier, there’s a hip check coming your way in the form of the fictional graphic novel, Roller Girl (2015), by Victoria Jamieson! Those sound like fighting words—they really aren’t. There are no more popular books in my middle school library right now than Smile and Sisters, but all the more reason to rejoice for a new voice that will please the Telgemeier fans.

Watch out Raina Telgemeier,
there’s a hip check coming your way.

In Smile, Telgemeier took on dental disaster right along with middle-school misery and produced a winning combination. Jamieson follows the same path here with friends going separate ways during summer, one off to dance camp and the other rolling into a roller derby camp. Roller Girl (2)Astrid is 12, that year of dramatic change, eye rolls, mothers that embarrass you, and friends who turn overnight into someone you don’t know anymore. When Astrid’s mother plans another one of her evenings of “cultural enlightenment,” Astrid and her best friend Nicole are skeptical. But when they end up at a roller derby event, black t-shirt wearing Astrid has found her people. Nicole is not so enchanted, and after a misunderstanding Astrid is off to roller derby camp on her own and is soon struggling to keep some details from her mom (she is walking or rolling home alone since Nicole is at dance camp with a new friend and the carpooling is nonexistent). There’s a lot of humor and pain as Astrid tries to master roller skating, let alone the finer points of hip checks and jamming. But there are equal amounts of humor and pain in everyday activities like clothes shopping with mom.

Just as in Telgemeier’s books (and Cece Bell’s El Deafo, a 2015 Newbery Honor book), there’s reassurance that the downs of adolescence are usually balanced by ups. Others have survived and you can, too. There’s some reassurance for moms too. Just because your child comes home with blue hair doesn’t mean it’s the end of the world.

I can’t wait to get copies for my middle schools. Lynn must have put on elbow and knee pads to snap up this one at the public library. Odds are she hip-checked some 11-year-old to get it first. I think we need Roller Derby names, don’t you, Lynn the Libarbarian? I think I might go by Sinbad the Blogger. Hmmmm.

Lynn: I knew practically nothing about Roller Derby when I started this book, so I learned a lot as we rolled through the story. But what I REALLY liked was the achingly authentic account of growing from a child to a teen.  Astrid may be a tough roller girl, but her struggles with understanding who she is and her changing relationships to the people around her are universal experiences. The roller derbies provide a fresh setting, but the heart of this book lies in the hearts of most young girls. My favorite scene is when Astrid’s mother discovers Astrid has been lying to her and Astrid is sent to her room. It is a looooong wait for Astrid before her mom comes in, but their talk is the essence of what a teen/mom relationship is all about. And as Astrid says,

“So take it from me, kids.  If you find yourself in hot water with your parents, try talking to them about your ‘crazy mixed up teenage feelings.’  It might just get you out of a jam.”

Victoria Jamieson writes and draws with heart and humor—and she brings mad skills, too. Jamieson is a roller derby skater herself, skating with the Rose City Rollers as Winnie the Pow! Her art is terrific, especially in her expressive characters and bright palette. This book is a definite slam!

Cindy and Lynn: You can keep on rolling and reading with these other recent derby books (Roller Derby is the new Vampire):

Roller Derby RivalsSue Macy, sports writer extraordinaire, tells a great story about two early derby pioneers in Roller Derby Rivals (2014). As in Basketball Belles (2011), Matt Collins’ illustrations are the perfect illustrations for Macy’s exciting and fascinating text. I will say that a friend who is on a roller derby team says that these rivals look far too friendly on the cover. They need to get their game faces on!

Book1.2 bannerFor tweens there’s the new Dorothy’s Derby Chronicles series that launched last summer with Rise of the Undead Redhead (2014). How can you not be intrigued by a haunted roller rink and the Booklist review that says, “Noting the diversity on her team, Dorothy observes that the players are ‘different sizes and colors and ranged from conservative . . . to wild women.'”

Demon DerbyAnd for teens, Carrie Harris delivered Demon Derby (2014). Coaches are often accused of not being human, but this roller derby coach really isn’t, at least not completely…. Summer Hayes recommends that you “Give this to Buffy the Vampire Slayer fans and readers who like their horror with a big dose of snark.” We’ll join that team!

Whip ItAnd when you’ve finished those, you can go see a live match or cue up Drew Barrymore’s directorial debut, Whip It (2009).





About the Author:

Cindy Dobrez and Lynn Rutan are Booklist reviewers and middle-school librarians who have chaired both ALA’s Best Books for Young Adults and the Michael L. Printz Award for YA Literature committees. Follow Bookends on Twitter at @BookendsBlog. You can also find Cindy at @cdobrez and Lynn at @482april.

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