By Elizabeth Wroten
MG Review: Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson
On 16, Jun 2015 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten
From GoodReads: Twelve-year-old Astrid has always done everything with her best friend Nicole. So when Astrid signs up for roller derby camp, she assumes Nicole will too. But Nicole signs up for dance camp with a new friends instead, and so begins the toughest summer of Astrid’s life. There are bumps and bruises as Astrid learns who she is without Nicole…and what it takes to be a strong, tough roller girl.
I am the least athletic person alive, but after reading this even I want to do roller derby! Roller Girl features a lot about roller derby that will appeal to the novice. There’s an explanation of the game (woven perfectly into the story) and the camp Astrid goes to slips in more exposure to the game and a good picture of how much work it all is.
The book isn’t an instruction manual or even a promotion of roller derby, though. The book is really a story about how friendships change especially at that tender time of the beginning of adolescence. Astrid is about to start junior high (sixth or seventh grade) and her best friend seems to have ditched her for the bitchy, shallow, popular girl. After some fighting and hurt feelings the girls talk about what’s happened and Astrid realizes that while she often feels like she’s living in Nicole’s shadow, Nicole feels the same way. The story was so pitch perfect for kids in that fourth through seventh grade range. (FYI, there is no sex, drugs, or drinking so the book is totally appropriate for younger readers so long as they can handle the reading level). These kind of friendship break ups happen all the time and friends’ interests change. As kids begin to mature the kind of confusion and hurt feelings that Nicole and Astrid experience is also incredibly common.
Roller Girl I think gives kids in this position something to think about and can help them understand what’s going on. Plus Astrid and Nicole talk through things giving a good example of how to handle the situation (after handling it poorly). The book never feels like a problem novel though, nor does it feel like it’s beating the reader over the head with A Message. The friendship story is couched so perfectly in the roller derby camp and is handled so naturally. The story also perfectly captures that tension of growing apart from a childhood friend. Astrid has such nostalgia for the relationship she and Nicole used to have and she hasn’t fully accepted that they’re both changing and that might mean they won’t be as close.
The obvious audience for this book is girls who are into roller derby. But I think kids who like friendship stories and realistic fiction will also find a lot to love as will kids who don’t mind living vicariously through their book characters. I don’t see why boys couldn’t pick this up either because I think they too go through these friendship woes and, while it could be a harder sell to them, the roller derby aspect will surely help. This is also a graphic novel so reluctant readers will be drawn in too.
One final note, Astrid’s mother is pretty great. She’s works so she isn’t around in the story a whole lot, but when she is she is supportive of Astrid. Even when it turns out Astrid has been lying to her about getting rides home from roller derby camp. And she takes Astrid’s hair dying in stride. Not every parent is like this, but I think it’s good to show a supportive adult in a story like this. My one complaint is when she drags Astrid clothes shopping and makes her try on clothes Astrid clearly doesn’t care for. It’s just a personal pet peeve of mine- parents who want their kids to dress a certain way to fit an image of what they should be. Ugh. Astrid holds her ground though and sticks with her t-shirt and shorts ensembles.