Roller Girl, by Victoria Jamieson; Dial Books for Young Readers: New York, 2015; $20.99
Tougher. Stronger. Fearless. These are the words the protagonist of Roller Girl is driven by as she fights to achieve her goals in this amusing and inspiring graphic novel of friendship and growing up. A relatable character for almost anyone who's ever tried something new, Astrid is a twelve-year-old girl who is obsessed with roller derby ... but not necessarily good at it.
Ever since first grade, Astrid has done everything with her best friend, Nicole. So Astrid signs up for roller derby camp and assumes that Nicole will do the same. But when Nicole decides to go to dance camp with a new friend instead, Astrid finds herself standing in front of a huge warehouse, alone and about to enter the most terrifying day of her life. Astrid soon discovers that the other girls in the camp can skate fifty laps in ten minutes, while all she can do is fall. And no matter how hard she tries, she doesn't seem to get much better.
If you've ever tried to master a new skill, you will be able to relate to Roller Girl's spunky and determined protagonist. I recently attempted to ice skate and found myself thinking about Astrid's similar situation as I clung to the wall on the side of the rink. Everyone else seemed so good, and here I was, afraid to even skate without support. Astrid expressed similar thoughts when she first went to the roller rink. Eventually though, like her, I found my confidence and slowly improved. Astrid's journey to confidence was sprinkled with difficulties that she sometimes had trouble overcoming, but she always managed to stay surprisingly positive and never gave up. I think I could learn a lot from this, because often when I try a new sport I struggle with self-doubt and frustration.
The other part of Astrid's story that is easy to identify with is her friendships. The author cleverly entwines this aspect of the story with Astrid's roller derby experience. While at camp, she encounters new people, makes friends, and starts to learn who she is without Nicole. Her new peers open her eyes to a whole different world, one that she never would have noticed if she hadn't broken apart from Nicole. When I was recently faced with the challenge of starting at a new school, I had many of the same feelings Astrid did. But by taking a risk and reaching out to new people, I found that there are great personalities everywhere, not just in the people you already know
The fact that this book is a graphic novel gives a whole different feel to the story. Usually, I don't read comics or books with illustrations, but this one really spoke to me with its accessible characters, well-thought-out plot, and detailed drawings. The author is a talented artist, and her vibrant illustrations bring the story to life. Humor and sarcasm help lighten the story and keep the reader entertained. In the author's drawings, you are able to see the characters' quirky facial expressions and other details that couldn't be easily expressed in writing.
Perhaps one of the things that I liked most about this book is that I felt like I knew Astrid. I felt her pain when Nicole told her she wasn't going to derby camp, I felt her joy when she finally could skate without falling, and I cheered her on in her first bout (roller derby match). I disliked the people she disliked and loved the people she loved. Somehow, using few words, the author made the characters complex and believable.
Claire Cleary, 12