Review: Spinning

Title: Spinning
Author: Tillie Walden
Illustrator: ‎Tillie Walden
Publisher: Macmillan
Date: September 12, 2017
Plot Synopses (provided by publisher): Ignatz Award winner Tillie Walden’s powerful graphic memoir Spinning captures what it’s like to come of age, come out, and come to terms with leaving behind everything you used to know.

It was the same every morning. Wake up, grab the ice skates, and head to the rink while the world was still dark.

Weekends were spent in glitter and tights at competitions. Perform. Smile. And do it again.

She was good. She won. And she hated it.

For ten years, figure skating was Tillie Walden’s life. She woke before dawn for morning lessons, went straight to group practice after school, and spent weekends competing at ice rinks across the state. Skating was a central piece of her identity, her safe haven from the stress of school, bullies, and family. But as she switched schools, got into art, and fell in love with her first girlfriend, she began to question how the close-minded world of figure skating fit in with the rest of her life, and whether all the work was worth it given the reality: that she, and her friends on the team, were nowhere close to Olympic hopefuls. The more Tillie thought about it, the more Tillie realized she’d outgrown her passion—and she finally needed to find her own voice.

Overall rating: 3.5/5

Spoilers below

Overall: I liked this. Tillie’s character is layered and interesting, even if a lot of the other girls around her are more than a little flat. As someone whose only exposure to competitive figure skating is Yuri on Ice, (and who had never even heard of synchronized skating), I found the glimpses into that world interesting, even if I didn’t feel like I gained any real understanding of it. One thing that often happens in a book like this is that the sport is either idealized or demonized, but this book strikes a great balance of showing all the reasons she dislikes it but keeps at it.

Her sexuality is also handled well, with the stress of having to come out over and over to everyone in her life being particularly true to life.

Main themes/tropes: coming out, competitive sports, never fitting in, first relationship

Plot: The first thing we learn is that Tillie hated skating and is still haunted by it, and the rest of the book explains why she skated for so long and all of the things she did like about it. It’s well-plotted as far as being convincingly awful and fun at the same time. It’s hard to know how much of this is true to life and how much has been artfully changed for the graphic novel, but there are no melodramatic points that a reader can point to as obviously being invented.

Characters: Tillie is very relatable, even when the situations she’s in are unfamiliar (skating competitions and judging.) Her parents are remote and unsympathetic, but she’s gifted with many adults in her life like her coach Caitlin who clearly care about her and take on parental roles.

Tillie’s relationship with Rae is obviously meant to be an important plot point, but the character is two dimensional and their relationship just never feels as emotionally resonant as the text states it is.

Art: Blue, yellow and grey coloring and simple lines make a pretty compelling style. The size of the panels also varied a lot, which helped to make things more interesting and break up too much dialogue.