This evening, I bring you one more of the 2017-18 South Carolina Book Award nominees. For the second year in a row, the SCCBA committee has chosen to place a graphic novel on the nominee list, a trend I desperately hope continues. This year, the lone graphic novel on the list is Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson. (By the way, this book is also a 17-18 SC Junior Book Award nominee. Bonus.)
Roller Girl has been on my radar for a while, and I finally made time to read it last night. I found it to be thoroughly relatable, and I think fans of Cece Bell’s El Deafo, Shannon Hale’s Real Friends, and anything by Raina Telgemeier will devour this book, a book that is essentially about being a good friend and embracing one’s own unique gifts. It could also encourage many young readers to search out a sport that may be unfamiliar to them–roller derby.
Astrid and her best friend, Nicole, do everything together, and Astrid assumes that will always be the case. She’s about to learn, however, that things have a way of changing.
After attending an exciting roller derby bout, Astrid signs up to attend a summer roller derby camp. She assumes that Nicole will join her, but Nicole has other plans in mind. She wants to attend ballet camp. Not only that, but she’ll be at ballet camp with Astrid’s sworn enemy, the vile Rachel. (Rachel is responsible for giving Astrid a particularly terrible nickname.) Astrid is not happy about the situation, but she really wants to go to roller derby camp. Maybe she’ll make some new friends there, friends who will make the growing distance with Nicole a little less painful.
Pain, as it turns out, is something Astrid is about to become very familiar with. Roller derby isn’t exactly all sunshine and roses. It hurts. It hurts even more when one doesn’t really know how to skate. Astrid goes home each day battered and bruised, and she barely has enough energy to fall into bed. Becoming a star roller girl is a lot harder than Astrid thought it would be.
Even though roller derby is more difficult than Astrid ever imagined, she is getting better slowly. She’s also making new friends. She’s growing closer to one girl in particular, Zoey. She and Zoey practice together, hang out, and Zoey even dyes Astrid’s hair blue–something her mother is not exactly happy about.
Things seem to be going okay for Astrid. She’s determined to be the best roller girl possible, and she’s putting in the work to make that happen. But what happens when she comes face-to-face with Nicole (and Rachel) again? What happens when Zoey, her new friend, gets the position Astrid desperately wants for their upcoming bout? What happens when Astrid is forced to face the consequences of everything she’s done this summer?
Will Astrid become the person–the roller girl–she knows she can be? And will she form–and keep–the friendships she so desperately desires?
Roller Girl is a wonderfully engaging book about the importance of perseverance, being a good friend, and being part of a team. It also introduces readers to roller derby, a sport that may be unfamiliar to them. I confess that I knew very little about roller derby before reading this book, but I now want to see if there are any teams in my area. (I have no desire or ability to play, but I bet it would be a ton of fun to watch.)
There is only one thing about Roller Girl that gives me pause. That’s the unfortunate nickname that Rachel saddled Astrid with. As I’m sure you know, kids can be cruel, and Astrid’s name lends itself to an especially rotten nickname–“ass-turd.” (I tell you this now so you’ll know what to expect.) Yes, this is a horrible term and some readers–mainly adults–could have a problem with it, but it emphasizes the dynamic between Astrid and Rachel and helps to explain why Astrid is so hurt that Nicole is friends with a girl who could come up with something so mean. Is this one term going to keep me from promoting this book to my upper elementary students? Nope, but I do believe in being prepared (with collection policies, reviews, Library Bill of Rights, intellectual freedom information, etc.) should anything be called into question. I urge anyone else to do the same.
With all of that being said, I do highly recommend Roller Girl to upper elementary and middle grade audiences. It’s a quick, entertaining read that emphasizes both individuality and teamwork. You’ll have a hard time keeping enough copies in your libraries. (I know I can’t keep it on my shelves.)
For more information on Roller Girl, visit author Victoria Jamieson’s website. Enjoy!