In this graphic novel for children, Victoria Jamieson tell the story of Astrid, who loses her best friend but gains roller derby. It wasn’t a trade-off she chose, but sometimes it happens like that. Fifth grade can be one of those turning points when you and your BFF suddenly have different interests, and can’t seem to get along anymore, no matter how you try.
When Astrid and Nicolle, who’ve been best friends since first grade, go with Astrid’s mom on an “evening of cultural enlightenment” to women’s roller derby, you can see the writing on the wall. Astrid is energized, while Nicolle is freaked out. Astrid wants to do junior roller derby camp together, but Nicolle doesn’t tell Astrid she’s doing ballet camp instead until the last minute, so Astrid lies to her mother about carpooling with Nicolle.
Astrid quickly finds out how demanding roller derby is, that it requires not only a tough spirit, but physical endurance and skill. She’s never even skated before, unlike the rest of the girls, and she’s one of the youngest girls, so she feels doubly disadvantaged. But with encouragement from the other girls and her roller derby hero, Rainbow Bite, she keeps at it.
I knew nothing about roller derby before reading this book, so it was fun to learn about how it works. The skating skill required reminds me of hockey, while the theatrics bring WWF wrestling to mind. There are legal hits and illegal hits and a penalty box, like in hockey. Players get to choose their own derby names, and they are usually a bit tongue-in-cheek: Braidy Punch, Draculola, Blondilocks, and Scream Soda, to name a few. The author’s bio on the back flap shows a photo of her in full roller derby regalia: Her derby name is Winnie the Pow.
Jamieson obviously speaks with authority on the subject of roller derby, but she is also convincing in her portrayal of this early coming of age story, and the loneliness of losing your best friend and realizing how much you were defined by that friendship. Astrid has to make new friends while somehow making peace with Nicolle, as well as explaining to her mother what is going on when mom finds out she’s been lying.
Jamieson’s drawing style is realistic and expressive, while the color palette is bright and fun. Younger readers will enjoy Astrid’s bulldog persistence and feistiness; older readers will appreciate Astrid’s growing confidence in herself; moms like me will savor the bonus of Astrid’s pride in becoming a role model for younger girls.