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Roller Girl

Review

Roller Girl

Perhaps the highest praise I can offer for ROLLER GIRLS --- the terrific new graphic novel by author, illustrator and “roller girl” herself Victoria Jamieson --- is that my 12 -year-old son, who normally would shy away from reading a book with a girl on the cover, devoured it in a single sitting. ROLLER GIRL is a girl-power chronicle, to be sure, but it's also in many ways a classic sports story and a really powerful exploration of friendship, both things that can and will appeal to kids across a broad range of ages and interests.

Twelve-year-old Astrid lives in Portland, Oregon, with her single mom, who often drags Astrid and her best friend, Nicole, on "evenings of cultural enlightenment." Visits to the opera, poetry readings and contemporary art galleries make Astrid and Nicole giggle inappropriately, roll their eyes or fall asleep. But when Astrid's mom takes them to see the hometown Rose City Rollers, Astrid, at least, is blown away. She longs to be like the tough, creative, talented women who make up the squad, especially Rainbow Bite, their star. Astrid doesn't even know how to skate, but that doesn't stop her from wanting to sign up for the roller derby summer day camp and becoming a "Rose Bud," especially since she's sure that Nicole will also want to come along and provide moral support.

ROLLER GIRL is a girl-power chronicle, to be sure, but it's also in many ways a classic sports story and a really powerful exploration of friendship, both things that can and will appeal to kids across a broad range of ages and interests.

But much to Astrid's surprise and dismay, Nicole isn't that interested in roller derby. She wants to spend the summer at ballet camp instead, with a girl who, Astrid fears, might unseat Astrid as Nicole's best friend. So Astrid throws herself into the challenging Rose Bud camp, even though she's the youngest and most inexperienced member of the team. She even makes a new friend, Zoey. As the summer progresses and the team's first bout approaches, Astrid learns not only the rules and techniques of roller derby, but also important lessons about honesty, hard work, loyalty and true friendship.

As I mentioned, ROLLER GIRL offers all the hallmarks of a classic sports story --- the initial adversity, the mounting tension before the big event --- but Jamieson (who skates on the Rose City Rollers when she's not busy illustrating) also cleverly plays with the expectations of the genre, making the big payoff not about Astrid's personal success but about generosity and friendship. Even readers who are not that interested in roller derby (although their interest is likely to be sparked by the story regardless!) will be moved by Astrid's struggles to define herself and to make better choices as a friend and daughter. Readers who do have even a passing interest in roller derby will be even more excited by the plot --- I had seen some roller derby demos in the past, but didn't really understand the rules of the sport before reading ROLLER GIRL.

ROLLER GIRL's story is further enhanced by Jamieson's illustrations. She rarely varies from a standard grid for her panels, but she offers a handful of full-page illustrations and more detailed small panels that help broaden the scope or draw attention to smaller details. Jamieson is especially adept at both showing action (a plus for depicting sports) and using facial expressions to connote emotions (a plus for a story as emotionally involving as this one). Like the roller derby stars themselves, each of the characters has a strong, highly visual personality --- one that readers of all ages and stripes will respond to.

Reviewed by Norah Piehl on April 7, 2015

Roller Girl
by Victoria Jamieson

  • Publication Date: March 10, 2015
  • Genres: Fiction, Graphic Novel
  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Dial Books
  • ISBN-10: 0803740166
  • ISBN-13: 9780803740167