Friday, January 22, 2016

Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson

Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson
Dial Books

Rating: 5 stars

On the one hand, Astrid Vasquez is a twelve-year-old girl who is a lot like other girls: she wants to fit in, she's scared to do something new, and she's going through the un-fun and confusing middle school stage where emotions and friends and identity are all turned upside down and inside out. She's had the same best friend ever since she can remember, but suddenly their different interests seem to be the end of the world, and the end of their friendship.

On the other hand, Astrid is nothing like most other girls. She prefers baggy shorts and dull colors over dresses and cheery hues. Her best friend is flirting with the idea that boys are something other than gross, and Astrid still has no interest whatsoever in the opposite gender. And Astrid is curious about roller derby, an activity not exactly sanctioned by the cool kids. Another great thing that sets her apart: she's not afraid to jump over her fear and complete lack of skating ability to follow her curiosity and interest.

The story that unfolds--in bright, fun, inviting graphic novel format--is a fantastic, modern coming-of-age story. At a time when Astrid is confused about who she is, she finds a tribe of tough and smart chicks who are simultaneously demanding and supportive of her. She finds a new friend and tip-toes into the water of teenage decision making when she dyes her hair blue and lies to her (single) mom about how she's getting home from roller derby camp. You parents of young readers might be worried to know that the mom grudgingly accepts her new hair color; but you'll be happy to know that Astrid learns good lessons about telling the truth about logistics as well as emotions.

What I loved most about Roller Girl was that it challenges the definition of what it means to be a "good girl." I chatted with Lorelei about it, about how much I liked how Astrid was taught and encouraged to have a fighting face while skating in a bout, how she was able to pull on a tough-girl mask and have no one mess with her. Astrid yells at her friends when she's mad, too, and while it's not lauded as something a girl should do, it's part of life, and not the end of the world. Astrid is still figuring out how to be a good friend and true to herself--two things a lot more important than being a typical "good girl," I think.

Roller Girl recently (and deservedly!) won a Newbery honor. I highly, highly recommend it. I think it's perfect for ten- and eleven-year-olds, but still fine and appropriate for eight- and nine-year-olds (like Lorelei). And while she read it first, first grader Ben was curious about it, so we read it together. He was equally impressed by it, and now the three of us are eager to find a roller derby game near us! I'm checking out NOVA Roller Derby right now...!

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