By Victoria Jamieson
Dial Books (Penguin)
Before I begin this review, let me set the right tone:
Sometimes you can find a lot of truth in unexpected places. Victoria Jamieson’s Roller Girl takes the universal experience of growing up and sets it against an unusual backdrop: the thrilling and intense world of roller derby. To say it works is an understatement. Full of trememdous honesty and depth, this is a book that will resonate with anyone lucky enough to find it. Needless to say, it’s the best graphic novel I’ve read this year by a mile.
How do you stop being best friends with someone? That’s the problem Astrid faces as she and number one pal Nicole begin to grow apart during the summer of their twelfth year. While problems had been brewing, it’s a trip to the roller derby that sets the unfriend wheels in motion. While Astrid is mesmerized by the action and signs up for derby camp, Nicole would rather focus on dance. Astrid finds herself in an uncomfortable place – trying to learn a difficult new sport without her best friend at her side. There are plenty of bumps (both literal and figurative), but slowly she finds her way.
I was struck by the emotional density of Roller Girl. Jamieson never stops revealing character. Just about every facet of friendship and identity is explored in these 240 pages and the relationships, situations, and feelings consistently ring true. The benefit of laying all this groundwork is that it makes for a more rewarding conclusion, as many loose ends get tied – some in unexpected ways.
It’s Jamieson’s first graphic novel, but you wouldn’t know it. The panel work is effective and often interesting. The illustrations fall on the subtle side with plenty of fine lines and details. The digital coloring adds a layer of vibrance, giving life to the story.
Add this to the pantheon of great middle grade graphic novels – it’s already drawing lots of comparisons to Raina Telgemeier’s Smile and Sisters. Long story short, my socks have been knocked off. Go out and get it.
Betsy Bird interviewed Victoria Jamieson for Fuse #8 TV: