Early morning practices, perfect hair and makeup, and high pressure performances are all part of the world of competitive figure skating that Tillie Walden takes readers into in her graphic memoir Spinning.
Growing up in New Jersey, Tillie’s synchronized skating practices were regimented and tough, but she excelled and felt at home on the ice. Moving to Texas after fifth grade introduces a new rink with different ways of doing things and a new group of girls that Tillie has to fit in with. Tillie does make friends, including a close friend she travels to competitions with (Tillie’s parents do not go with her). This also causes issues for Tillie during practice at the rink as the other mothers find it unusual that she is there alone and always make her aware that one needs to pay for rink usage. Despite not always fitting in and not liking the forced femininity of the skating community, Tillie’s ability to compete well and her desire to grow as a skater keeps her in the rink for twelve years. As time goes on, however, Tillie begins to explore more about her identity and what she wants for her future. Tillie begins to lose passion for skating, just going through the motions because quitting has never been an option in her mind.
Through skating, coming out to her team, her first love and heartbreak, and moving away from skating towards art, Spinning is a coming-of-age story that will captivate readers from the expert storytelling, pacing, and art. Walden’s unique use of panels, such as a page of twenty-four small almost wordless panels showing a young Tillie getting ready to go to the rink before the sun is up is one example of how Walden’s art works so well to convey her experiences. The use of two colors, dark purple and white, with a contrasting yellow to draw readers’ eyes to certain images or parts of images, is eye-catching and fits with the story. Walden’s art for the skating sequences show movement, making readers feel like they’re a part of the action; sparse text and expressive art for the emotional, quieter and more introspective moments tie everything together in a story that is not just about skating but about growing up and finding yourself. Each chapter is titled with a different figuring skating technique, such as a lutz or waltz jump with a short description of what it is or why the technique was personal to her.
Spinning is a stunning and memorable graphic novel that will be best enjoyed by late middle school/high school teens with crossover appeal for adults. Spinning is a must-have for young adult graphic novel collections. Recommend to readers of graphic memoirs, coming-of-age stories, and to those who want an inside look at the world of competitive figure skating.
by Tillie Walden
First Second, 2017
Publisher Age Rating: 14-18 yrs.