Sunday, December 10, 2017


Spinning is a beautiful, spare, and painful book. It is an autobiographical memoir about a young girl growing up, with one of the few constant things in her life being competitive ice skating. Also, from about the age of 5, she has known that she is gay, though she does not tell anyone for fear of being rejected or worse.

Much of this book takes place in skating rinks, but it is mostly about a search for identity and acceptance. Tillie has a few friendships, though they get disrupted when her family moves from New Jersey to Texas, where ice skating is a rarer and less popular thing. Tillie has a rough relationship with her family. She is a twin, though she does not seem especially close to her brother. He appears only sporadically in the book. Her father is a jokester who usually ends up taking her to early morning practices, but their conversations are merely functional. Her mother seems distant and moody, and what we see of her makes her seem prickly at best. 
Although she is "good" at skating, Tillie does not seem especially fond of it. She seems to be going through the motions over 12 years, skating and competing but really looking for something else. She is searching for some connection, whether it be a friend or mentor. Ironically, because she feels sad and alone, she takes part in a sport where she has to go off frequently and be alone. And cold, it's also cold out on the ice.

Author/artist Tillie Walden is the creator behind this book. Only 21 years old, she already has been nominated for two Eisner Awards, won two Ignatz Awards, and also published three other graphic novels, including The End of Summer, I Love This Part, and A City Inside. She also is working on a webcomic, On a Sunbeam. As I hope you can tell form the excerpt above, Walden's storytelling is beautifully understated. She uses a lot of negative space and very strategic dialogue to great effect. Tillie the main character appears lonesome for much of this book, and that loneliness is reflected in the artwork. Her isolation also leaves her ruminating, and I feel that is also reflected in the storytelling, as it is very calculated and thoughtful. For those interested, you can learn more about Walden's life and work in this article or this interview. I really enjoyed this interview, too.

All of the reviews I have read about this book say it is stellar. Kirkus Reviews gave it a starred review and summed it up as "A quiet powerhouse of a memoir." Publishers Weekly also gave it a starred review and called it "A haunting and resonant coming-of-age story." Booklist also gave it a starred review (3 for 3 here!) and reviewer Sarah Hunter concluded, "A stirring, gorgeously illustrated story of finding the strength to follow one’s own path."

Spinning was published by First Second, and they offer a preview and more here. I feel that this book would be appropriate for most YA readers. It features mature themes, and there is one instance of sexual violence, but I feel it will resonate with many adolescent readers.

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