Published by First Second on September 12th 2017
Poignant and captivating, 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. It was a central piece of her identity, her safe haven from the stress of school, bullies, and family. But over time, 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 figure skating team, were nowhere close to Olympic hopefuls. It all led to one question: What was the point?The more Tillie thought about it, the more Tillie realized she'd outgrown her passion--and she finally needed to find her own voice.
I received this book for free in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
I was so excited to receive an ARC of Spinning! I have been reading tons of graphic novels this summer, and a YA graphic novel memoir about ice skating and coming to terms with your sexuality sounded too amazing to pass up. However, while I appreciate what this book brought to the table, the narrative structure was a bit too all over the place for my personal taste.
Spinning chronicles author Tillie Walden’s adolescent years in the world of competitive figure skating. While ice skating is inarguably a huge focus of this memoir, the story covers a lot more than simply the ice skating part of Walden’s life. It shows her dealing with coming out as a lesbian, struggling with bullies at school, and dealing with general feelings of depression and worthlessness. It’s a coming-of-age story in more ways than one. That being said, I did enjoy learning more about growing up as a competitive ice skater and all the unique ins and outs of that (foreign-to-me) world.
The thing I can’t shake about Spinning is the pervasive sense of sadness this book left me feeling throughout. It’s just… not a particularly happy memoir. Tillie constantly feels like an outsider, even when surrounded by other people, which is a feeling I think lots of teens can relate to. I really appreciate the way Spinning dealt with sexuality and how being a queer woman can often isolate you from other women during your teenage years. It also dealt with mental health in a realistic way– meaning, it was a bit heart-wrenching at times. The art style, particularly the coloring (lots of purples and dark colors), of this graphic novel underscores this sense of melancholy that’s present throughout the book.
I’ve seen many people take issue with the pacing of Spinning, and while I see Walden’s intent with pacing the novel the way she did, I have to admit the story itself felt a bit jumbled. The book barely touches on any specific instance in Tillie’s life, and this left me feeling confused at more than one point. It glossed over so many events and moments I wish Walden had spent more time on. Plus, the timeline was not linear at all; whole years were totally skipped over for seemingly no reason, while others had 100 pages solely devoted to that specific year in Walden’s life. I get that this is reflective of the way we reflect on our own lives– some years stand out more than others– but it made the reading experience less enjoyable, for sure. The ending was pretty abrupt, too (side note: is this just… a thing in graphic novel memoirs? they all seem to come to a close so suddenly and without much resolution.).
Overall, though, I think the quiet, languid storytelling is a reflection of Tillie herself. She’s a fairly introverted person, struggling to find her place in the world. The jarring shifts in time make sense because Tillie is so unsure of herself and her future at any given moment. While it didn’t make for the most compulsively readable story, it was an excellent reflection of growing up and the journey of adolescence in general.
I would recommend Spinning to anyone who enjoys graphic novels or is interested in a quieter narrative about coming into your own.
Have you read a graphic novel memoir before?