Graphic Novel Review: Spinning by Tillie Walden

Spinning by Tillie Walden
Release Date: September 12, 2017
Publisher: First Second
Genre: Young Adult Memoir
ISBN:978-1626729407
Source: BEA 2017
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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.

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Spinning is the fourth graphic novel from 20 year old cartoonist, illustrator, and writer, Tillie Walden. It is a memoir detailing the years Tillie spent ice skating and the significant moments that shaped Tillie during that time. Whether or not you’re into ice skating, you will enjoy this book. Ice skating sets the stage for the themes of discipline and control and what you take from it, so it really is the groundwork and a solid parallel for what’s to come in this coming of age story.

One of the aspects that I immediately connected with was Tillie moving as a child. As someone who moved often as a kid, I could relate to and absolutely loved how accurately (both physically and emotionally) it was portrayed on the page, especially in regards to all of the insecurities you already feel as a kid on top of starting over in a new place. Specifically, I loved that Walden acknowledged the time it takes to transition your entire life into a new town, a new school, new social environments and the emotional toll it takes even after you’ve “settled in.” She summed up so much in the line, “Nothing felt easy, but at least it wasn’t new anymore.

I really appreciated and savored the dynamics between her and her coaches as well as the girls in the world of competitive figure skating. I loved the complexity in the relationship dynamics that are explored. I was touched by the parents and their A+ in being physical providers but perhaps failing to be emotionally present and supportive, especially during a time in which their child needed them most. I remembered that feeling of being so disconnected from friends who were only two years older but might as well have been lightyears away. I loved how organically everything was as Tillie began to show more feelings for a girl and as she came out to the different people in her life. I can’t begin to describe how much it meant to me to see much of the emotional aftermath and impact of being sexually assaulted. This is often overlooked so it meant a lot to see this moment on the pages, validated. This graphic memoir is so deeply personal to me in so many ways and I hope that even if it’s not for you, you will be moved by the story in more ways than one.

With all of the above, it brought me great joy to know that Tillie was able to find her quiet spaces, her places of solace to be still, to rest, to reflect, to grow, to take the stage when no one is watching and learn how to bring that to the stage, fearlessly, when everyone is watching.

One of the aspects that I loved about this was that each chapter begins with a skating move and even though we see an illustration of the move and a description of how to conduct the move, it’s also quite something to apply the how to real life. And overall, the illustrations are simple and lovely, I definitely want to read more graphic novels from Walden, that is for sure. Spinning is so thoughtful and engaging and I hope that everyone who wants to read this gets the opportunity to do so because it is just such a beautiful number.

Spinning by Tillie Walden is available now.

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