Monday, September 11, 2017

[Jen's Review]: "Roller Girl"

Roller Girl by Vanessa North
Publisher: Riptide Publishing (July 23, 2016)
Series: Lake Lovelace, 3
Genre: F/F Romance -- Contemporary
1st POV (Tina only)

Recently divorced Tina Durham is trying to be self-sufficient, but her personal-training career is floundering, her closest friends are swept up in new relationships, and her washing machine has just flooded her kitchen. It’s enough to make a girl cry.

Instead, she calls a plumbing service, and Joanne “Joe Mama” Delario comes to the rescue. Joe is sweet, funny, and good at fixing things. She also sees something special in Tina and invites her to try out for the roller derby team she coaches.

Derby offers Tina an outlet for her frustrations, a chance to excel, and the female friendships she’s never had before. And as Tina starts to thrive at derby, the tension between her and Joe cranks up. Despite their player/coach relationship, they give in to their mutual attraction. Sex in secret is hot, but Tina can’t help but want more.

With work still on the rocks and her relationship in the closet, Tina is forced to reevaluate her life. Can she be content with a secret lover? Or with being dependent on someone else again? It’s time for Tina to tackle her fears, both on and off the track.

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Jen's Review:

You know when everyone is talking about a book, and then months later you finally read it, and you just want to kick yourself for not getting around to it sooner? That’s me and Roller Girl by Vanessa North. I heard about this book just everywhere a few months ago, but it fell into that dreaded middle space in the Kindle where I forgot it was there. I was determined to end my summer with something wonderful, and I am happy to report that Roller Girl fit the bill. 

The story starts with Tina waking up in the middle of the night to her washing machine flooding the kitchen. Anyone would panic, but Tina’s ex-wife was the one who managed the household; Tina’s anxiety is not only about the waterlogged first floor, but also about handling a crisis on her own for the first time. Vanessa North does an excellent job of showing just how helpless Tina feels in these first chapters. Tina is on her own as a single woman for the first time---not only because of her divorce, but because of her recent transition. Tina has close supportive friends, but she is still so lonely. 

But in this moment, she is worried about her own safety as a trans woman--will she be safe with what she assumes will be a strange man in her home in the middle of the night? What if “my jaw is too square or my voice is too deep?” Tina has good reason to be worried, for she has experienced street harassment and must be painfully aware of how trans women as a community suffer disproportionate oppression and violence.  As a cis woman, I was incredibly moved by Tina’s description of her terror. She thinks:

“The first time I was catcalled and followed down the street, [my ex-wife] found me crying in the shower afterward. She told me all women fear male violence, but that if we really stopped to think about it, we’d never get through the day. I didn’t learn that lesson as a teenager, I’m still at the stopping-to-think-about-it stage.” 

I could unpack that quote forever and still not do it justice. I was heartbroken for Tina, seeing how she felt and knowing that it will happen again; but I was sad to realize that I’ve stopped thinking about it, too. Tina’s strength and determination, despite feeling so vulnerable, had me rooting for her from the very beginning.

However, when Joe the plumber arrives, Tina is surprised to find Joe is a charming “baby butch” woman, who flirts a little with Tina and even ask her out on a date before she leaves. This is clearly the first date Tina has been on since her divorce, and Tina is thrilled, disbelieving, and nervous all at the same time. Fast forward to the date, which is honestly just the most crushing thing. There’s clearly chemistry between Joe and Tina, but Joe has an ulterior motive. Tina is a personal trainer and former professional wakeboarder, and Joe wants Tina to play on her roller derby team. Joe won’t date her players and Tina’s disappointment is palpable. Despite that disappointment, Tina can’t turn down the opportunity to be part of a close-knit group of women. 

However, that close connection between Tina and Joe can’t be denied. Eventually, they start an affair. It’s sexy and thrilling because Tina’s experiencing the joy and acceptance of a new lover for the first time. Joe’s open warmth allows Tina to get out of her own head and enjoy this next step in their relationship. The major conflict of the book is that Joe wants to keep their relationship a secret. Having kept secrets her whole life, Tina is hurt. She wants everyone to know that they’re a couple. Since the book is shown from Tina’s point of view, I had a hard time figuring out Joe’s motives. Even though Joe does explain her reasoning to Tina, it felt a little thin. It’s a short book, and the focus is on Tina. I never doubted Joe’s attraction to Tina, but she’s not as fully formed of a character.

Throughout the book, I felt so connected to Tina. She is a nurturer, someone who helps people become their best selves, both physically and emotionally. One big part of Tina’s emotional journey is letting others take care of her the same way she cares for them. Near the end of the book, a local television station asks to interview her and feature the story of her transition. Tina’s not sure she should do it, but her friend Dave asks her

“When you were fourteen or fifteen, if you had seen an interview with someone like you--a trans adult, happy in her career and personal life, how would you have felt?” 

I’m a teacher, and I was moved to tears at this entire scene. Yes, the trans children I know need to see happy, fulfilled trans adults. But since one of the books I can’t keep on the shelves in my classroom library is called Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out, I know many cis kids also want to see happy, fulfilled transgender people. 

This book just made me feel good about the world. I know nothing about roller derby and needed to watch Youtube videos to understand some of those scenes. Tina describes how derby makes her feel to a friend as

“You know how when you  meet someone, and you get all wrapped up in them, giddy at the thought of them, and the time you spend with them seems brighter and more intense than anything else in your life...I feel this way about derby.”

Giddy and bright is how I felt about this book. I found myself grinning like a fool, so happy to see Tina find love, find friends, and find derby. 

P.S.: I think it’s worthwhile to encourage everyone to read reviews of this book from trans/non-binary reviewers. The blog Kink Praxis lists three reviews of Roller Girl that you should check out! 


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Jen bought this book.

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Thanks for the review, Jen! I've had my eye on this one as well. :)

Have you read Vanessa North?


Until Next Time,

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