Review: Roller Girl by Vanessa North (2016)

Lake Lovelace, Book #3

Heat Factor: There are hot sexytimes, but most of it is centered in Tina’s emotional development

Character Chemistry: Instant attraction with roller derby-related complications

Plot: Tina doesn’t feel like she’s adulting very well after her divorce, so she’s trying to take care of herself by herself while also finding a community of women to be with in roller derby

Overall: Totally a feels book

Roller Girl doesn’t start out being about Tina being a trans woman, but as the story progresses, many components of Tina’s experience are directly related to that experience. The nice thing about it is that almost everyone treats Tina with care and respect. She’s misgendered once, but her larger community is generally awesome, and even when she does the television interview, the characters at the TV station are super checked in and careful. It felt like a hopeful and positive read, and I teared up at some heartwarming gushiness. 

Most of my reading of trans protagonists has included pretty young characters (that’s partially because I’ve been reading a lot of gender identity books with my kids, but picture books have characters, too, so there you go), so I engaged with Tina somewhat differently than I’ve done with those other protagonists. Tina had a whole other adulthood – including a marriage – before she transitioned, and that impacted her in some interesting ways. She’s nearly forty, recently divorced, and feeling a little bit helpless because her wife and her parents took care of all life-related things for her (it starts with her having to call a plumber), and also feeling social anxiety more generally. 

Enter Joe, the plumber who inherited her business from her father. While Joe is Tina’s love interest, and the primary conflict in the book centered on how their relationship was going, I felt much more like Joe was most importantly the conduit that allowed Tina to embrace a new adult life and new friendships with women because Joe recruited Tina for roller derby. They had immediate interest, and there was a bit of “we can’t” because Joe was the team’s coach and Tina was a player, but Tina and Joe largely fell into a low key relationship that, by itself, didn’t involve a lot of tension or personal/emotional development for those characters. Much more important to the story was Tina’s roller derby community. 

Until roller derby, Tina’s very close circle of friends were her former wakeboarding friends and, by extension, their partners. After roller derby, Tina’s circle expands to include a whole bunch of women, queer and straight (though Tina was the only trans woman on the team). So, given that we begin with Tina realizing that she needs to learn how to take care of herself better, the fact that most of her growth arc includes Tina finding a community that actively supports her and building friendships within that community is important. Moreover, the roller derby community Tina enters understands that part of taking care of yourself is letting other people help you, which is one of the things that Tina needed to allow herself to have. I felt like the real story wasn’t Tina and Joe’s romance, it was Tina’s journey of self discovery.

Buy Now: Amazon | Bookshop

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