Growing up, I was not a sporty kid. I have vivid memories of an errant volleyball hitting me in the face three times during one truly terrible sixth grade P.E. class. But I loved roller skating. If I’d known what roller derby was, I probably would’ve begged my mother to sign me up for junior league tryouts just like Astrid, the star of Victoria Jamieson’s Roller Girl, a 240-page middle-grade graphic novel released March 10 from Dial Books.
As a skater for Portland’s Rose City Rollers, Jamieson clearly knows a thing or two about roller derby, and her enthusiasm shows on every page. She’s also a talented artist: Her light-hearted story about female friendship is matched by vibrant colors and adorably drawn characters. It also doesn’t hurt that the skaters, with their wild hair colors and piercings, exude the kind of cool that would appeal to young girls who feel like outsiders among their peers.
Roller Girl takes place in Portland, where 12-year-old Astrid and her best friend Nicole are dragged by Astrid’s mother to a roller derby game featuring the Rose City Rollers. Immediately drawn in by the athleticism, brutality, and showmanship of the skaters, Astrid asks her mom if she can sign up for the Rosebuds, the Rollers’ junior league. Since best friends do everything together, Astrid assumes Nicole will sign up with her. But much to her disappointment and frustration, Nicole tells her she’d rather spend her summer at dance camp with their enemy, Rachel. Astrid allows her mother to think that her friendship with Nicole has never been better, when in fact it’s falling apart. And skating with the Rosebuds doesn’t make life any less stressful. Clumsy and uncoordinated, a lonely Astrid thinks she’ll never be as good as the other girls on the team—certainly not as good as her idol Rainbow Bite, the jammer for the Rose City Rollers. But in time, Astrid makes friends in junior derby and discovers a confidence she didn’t know she had.
I connected to Astrid as a character because she’s imperfect. She has a good heart that’s easily bruised by her need to have Nicole be only her friend and no one else’s. When I was Astrid’s age, I too had only one close friend, and when she started hanging out with a group of girls who didn’t like me, it stung with all the dramatic middle school emotions you can imagine.
That all being said, I’m torn on how to feel about the resolution between Astrid and Nicole. During the course of the book, the two grow apart. As Astrid finds herself, she becomes more distant from her friend. Although I was happy to see Astrid develop her self confidence and meet new people, part of me wished that she and Nicole stayed friends despite their growing differences. I acknowledge that, personally, I don’t talk to anyone from my junior high days, so it’s silly to impose my own standards on fictional characters. Still, I think it would be good to show the girls who read this book that growing up doesn’t always have to mean growing apart. It’s possible to be friends with people with diverse interests or to stay friends with someone when your common interests begin to wane. I met both of my closest friends through our mutual love of professional wrestling—though neither of them have watched regularly in years, we still keep in touch almost daily. But I can see, too, where Jamieson is going with the Astrid and Nicole friendship. Losing good friends is a universal story and it’s important to teach girls—really, all children—that they will survive it.
Perhaps roller derby isn’t the first choice for every girl who wants to play a sport and make friends, but Roller Girl’s story and themes are beyond the game. It’s a book that deals with a languishing friendship and a test of mettle against a seemingly insurmountable challenge—what girl can’t relate to that?
Ariana Vives is the new media intern at Bitch. She’s thinking of trying out for derby in May.