This is the second graphic novel I’ve read by Tillie Walden and I’m hooked — there is a lot going on in Walden’s mind, and it spills out in stories and images that catch at my heart. I was a competitive synchronized swimmer through much of my teen years so I resonated with Walden’s descriptions of synchronized skating — the early morning workouts, the bonds and the challenges of being on a team of teenaged girls, the experience of being judged, wearing artificial hair, the mom’s table (my parents didn’t hang out at practices either). The familiarity of any rink (or pool) even years later — the smell brings it all back. And then there is the decision to leave.
Walden’s story is unique to her — in the end-note, she says she started this as a tell-all novel about skating but in the process of being honest to her felt experience, the story turned into an exploration of how our experiences shape who we are and therefore how we perform.
Tillie frequently turns away from her thoughts and feelings. She is aware of a looming adulthood that will soon require significant choices. Few adults are helpful and several of them are disappointing, not even trying to enter her world. Figuring out what is her truth — even if it is just about skating — is Walden’s coming of age task.
Spinning is a coming out story as well as a coming of age story. Life required Walden to find her own voice in a way that wasn’t required of me until years later. I found myself wishing I’d found her courage earlier in my life at the same time as I was frustrated at the unfairness she experienced, the way the forces of morality conspired against her. Surely to goodness we can start doing better by our LBTQIA+ youth!