Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson. March 10, 2015. Dial Books. 240 pages. Ages 9-12.
Astrid and Nicole have been best friends forever, and always do everything together. But then, the summer before middle school everything suddenly changes. After watching the roller derby, Astrid falls in love with the sport and signs up for a roller derby summer camp, assuming Nicole will as well. But, Nicole decides to go to dance camp instead. Even worse, Nicole starts hanging out with Rachel, Astrid's sworn enemy.
On top of everything else, once Astrid gets to roller camp, she finds that all the other girls already have experience and she is by far the worst. She becomes very discouraged, but eventually things start to look up, for a while. Then she inadvertently alienates her new skating friend, Zoey, things get even worse between her and Nicole, and her mother finds out she hasn't been completely honest about how she's been getting to and from camp or spending her free time.
Could things be any worse?
This is an entertaining, at times poignant, look at the angst tweens face making that difficult transition from elementary to middle school, a time when interests and friendships often change. Many kids that age will be able to relate to Astrid's struggles when her skill doesn't match her interest level in roller derby, and trying to maintain friendships when everyone is changing. The story is well told, and Astrid's voice is very authentic and relatable, and her sarcastic asides to the reader quite funny. I would recommend this to all tweens, but especially those who enjoy graphic novels, and particular fans of Raina Telgemeier's Smile.
I typically don't read many graphic novels; while I recognize their value, the format just isn't as appealing to me personally. I read this one because it was named a 2016 Newbery Honor Book, and I have to admit, I really enjoyed it. It took me a chapter or two to adjust to the format and get into it, but I found the main character very relatable and the story well told, both in text and pictures. Even many years later, I still remember going through similar difficult transitions in middle school and high school and the pain of losing old friendships as we grew in different directions and each found new friends. I'm not certain I would have chosen it as Newbery Honor book, but I would highly recommend it.
It is interesting to note that the author/illustrator is in fact a roller girl herself, skating with the Rose City Rollers under the name "Winnie-the-Pow". Adults who enjoyed Roller Girl might want to check our her illustrated roller derby journal, Roller Derby Comics.
Other Books By This Author
Victoria Jamieson has also written and illustrated three picture books, Pest In Show, Olympig!, and Bea Rocks The Flock. Roller Girl is her first middle-grade book, and first graphic novel.
Other 2016 Newbery Award/Honor Books
Last Stop On Market Street, Echo, and The War That Saved My Life