Friday, December 08, 2017

Graphic Memoir: Spinning

I always enjoy graphic novels and memoirs, and I saved two in particular for Nonfiction November. The first one was Spinning by Tillie Walden, a memoir by a young woman who grew up in the world of competitive figure skating. This book not only tells a story but also creates a distinct mood and feeling to help the reader understand how the author felt.

Tillie grew up on the ice. She started figure skating at a young age, spending all her time after school and on weekends in cold rinks, practicing twirls, jumps, and other intricate moves on the ice. As the memoir begins, Tillie is a young girl in New Jersey, skating with a group of girls her age and a demanding, sometimes cruel coach for synchronized skating (but a kind, motherly individual coach). When she finishes 5th grade, her family - including her twin brother and older brother - move to Austin, Texas. It's a whole new world for Tillie, with a new school and new kids, and even skating is different, with a kind coach and an ice rink located inside a shopping mall.

Tillie continues to skate throughout middle school and high school, but she never feels happy or even comfortable there. She yearns for a close friend but doesn't know how to open herself up like that. Her family mostly ignores her and doesn't even come to her skating competitions, and she's bullied at school. She gradually comes to realize that she's gay, but she doesn't know how to tell anyone, so she lives in a silent, solitary world. Things get a little bit better in high school, where she discovers art and has her first girlfriend. Nothing is easy for Tillie, though, and she suffers several devastating setbacks and eventually decides that she needs to quit skating.
This is a long and detailed memoir, with so much to it that I had trouble summarizing it simply here. But the story is just a piece of the book. Tillie's drawings perfectly depict her mood and ambivalence during those difficult years. Dark purple and white, with occasional splashes of bright yellow, evoke the coldness and isolation Tillie felt, both at the rink and in her life generally. It's a very moving and sad story that makes you feel like you are there in that cold rink with Tillie. It's not all gloomy, though, and ends on a note of hope - and of course, we know that Tillie followed her dreams of drawing because of the beautiful, haunting book in our hands.

397 pages, First Second

I see this book is listed in the Teen category on Amazon, and it is excellent for teens, but also great for young adults and adults, too!

Disclosure: I received this book from the publisher in return for an honest review. My review is my own opinion and is not influenced by my relationship with the publisher or author.

Note: This post contains affiliate links. Purchases from these links provide a small commission to me (pennies per purchase), to help offset the time I spend writing for this blog, at no extra cost to you.

You can see more sample pages from Spinning by clicking this link and clicking on "Look Inside."

by ScholasticTrade Paperback

You can purchase Spinning from Book Depository, with free shipping worldwide.


  1. I'd seen this one, but wasn't sure what it was about. It sounds so good!

    1. Different than I expected, Helen, but very good!