You had to have a key. For this reason we wore them around our necks on a string where they would swing from side to side as we careened down neighborhood sidewalks. It was the chief mode of travel, other than bikes, in our little town for all the younger guys and gals; those metal roller skates with a single strap to hold your ankle in place. The key was needed to tighten the clamps securely around your shoes.
These excursions around the quiet village streets were training for the big time, Edru Rolling Skating Rink on Saturdays. Friends and classmates of all ages met there to roll around on the wooden floor moving to your favorite music, speed determined by the song. We slowed as the large disco ball spun in the center, gathered in a large circle at the center to do The Hokey Pokey or made a huge line as we jumped to The Bunny Hop.
Yesterday as I zipped through one of the newest graphic novels of 2015, it was like I was back coasting down the hilly sidewalks, watching for cracks and gathering speed for the climb back to level ground. Roller Girl (Dial Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Penguin Group (USA) LLC, March 10, 2015) written and illustrated by Victoria Jamieson introduces readers to twelve-year-old Astrid as she navigates through a summer of changes. We are there with her, every fall, slide, bump and skate of the way.
As the first page is turned Astrid is sitting on a park bench, helmet at her side, lacing up her skates. Off to the right are two girls, Rachel and her (former) best friend Nicole. Nicole stands silently while Rachel makes several snide remarks before they leave.
With another page turn we are at the title page as Astrid is skating across the top of a scene in the mall like a larger than life superhero, scaring the two other girls. With these two double-page illustrations and narratives, we are well aware of the relationship conflict and Astrid's strides into the world of roller derby. In the next sixteen chapters the story is disclosed at pure adolescent speed.
Before the fateful summer vacation begins Astrid and Nicole venture one evening with Astrid's mother on one of her
ECEs (Evening of Cultural Enlightenment)
but this time Astrid is thrilled with attending a roller derby bout between the Oregon City Rollergirls and the hometown Rose City Rollers. She initially does not notice Nicole's less than enthusiastic interest. When Nicole decides to sign up for ballet camp with Rachel instead of roller derby camp with her, Astrid is devastated. Astrid also neglects to tell her mother of Nicole's absence at roller derby camp; keeping it a secret.
On that first day within short order Astrid is more than aware of her shortcomings as a skater; let alone a major player on the rink. The day is painfully long and the trip home walking (without a ride from Nicole's mom) is exhausting. Her arrival the next day is greeted with encouragement from the other girls, particularly Zoey who makes her a gift of a Hugh Jackman sticker for her helmet thus beginning a new friendship.
When the girls are told they might be chosen to play in an actual bout, through the challenges of weekly practices, Astrid slowly makes enhancements in her thinking and physical appearance. A series of secret communications, hair dying (shades of Anne of Green Gables), references to movie and theater productions, a startling revelation about long-time friends, clothes shopping and a parental confrontation compel Astrid toward finding her true self. A last minute effort to make amends and some monumental hip action make all the difference. Three cheers for Roller Girl!
Through a mix of conversational dialogue and the first person point of view of Astrid we are privy to the true-to-life situations of this twelve-year-old girl. Even though this story is told within the venue of a roller derby camp, the challenges of peer and parent relationships as presented are timeless. All the characters feel genuine.
What seems important to me are the personalities of the adults in this story. The positive support offered by Astrid's single mom, the coaches at the camp, and the professional roller derby player are refreshing and believable. When Astrid and Zoey are distanced at one point, the significance of their bond is revealed in their willingness to go the extra mile for one another and in the art of compromise they develop. I have to add that in addition to spot-on dialogue and point of view, Victoria Jamieson adds the perfect amount of humor; allowing readers to see themselves in the characters and be able to laugh about it. Here is a sample passage. The girls are practicing outside by skating around the town near the park.
Astrid (as narrator): At this point in the story, I should probably mention one little fact about my skating...
Coach: OK everyone, we're at our first hill. The key to going down hills is to use your plow stop. We're going to start slowly---I'll go first to demonst----
Astrid (as narrator): that little fact being...
Astrid (as narrator): I'm not so great at stopping.
Coach: Get low!
Teammate: Plow stop! Plow stop!
Coach: Astrid! Are you OK?
Astrid: I fell small!
Teammate: Oh my gosh, that was insane!
Zoey: That was amazing!
Coach: Thanks, Astrid, for my daily heart attack.
The matching dust jacket and book case take readers into the realm of roller derby with pizzazz. The bright yellow background, full color images and bold lines pair perfectly with the text. The red opening and blue closing endpapers signify change and parallels between fact and fiction worlds. When Victoria Jamieson elects to begin her story on the opening four pages (including the title page), she establishes a framework in which to place events leading up to and after that particular incident.
The design and layout of her panels allow for an easy flow; you will find yourself turning the pages faster or slower depending on the illustrations and narrative. She may frame a series of pictures or place a frame within a larger visual. Many times the smaller insets will focus on facial expressions or body language. Everything is intentional and specific. Delineations between Astrid's narrative, thoughts and the dialogue are easily understood with framing and shape of speech balloons.
One of my favorite illustrations comes early in the book. It's when Astrid, Nicole and Astrid's mother are at the roller derby bout. The lights are dimmed except for the center of the rink. Across two pages we see the announcer and his words. A series of three groups of three smaller visuals set the tone of the audience and players; close-ups of feet, elbows, arms and determined looks. You can almost feel the air sizzle and crack with excitement.
Roller Girl written by Victoria Jamieson is graphic novel gold. On the first read through and on the subsequent read of certain sections, I kept thinking how much people are going to enjoy this book. It's not just for the intended audience but for anyone who enjoys superb storytelling.
To learn more about Victoria Jamieson please follow the links attached to her name to access her website and blog. She includes lots of extras about the making of this book. For a more in depth look at Victoria Jamieson please follow links here and here to view an interview with Julie Danielson at Kirkus and artwork on Julie's blog, Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast. Enjoy the video interview at Fuse #8 TV.