To me, Roller Girl by Vanessa North is a roller derby book that includes a lesbian romance, rather than being a roller derby romance; there was a lot more going on in the book besides the relationship between Tina and her girlfriend–a lot that in my opinion enhanced the book and broadened its appeal. I’m no derby girl, but the game shines through the book–its appeal to Tina in the beginning, her anticipation as she auditions, the friendships she forms during practice–and I think that this element would please anyone who wants to read a women’s sports book, romance fan or no. In fact, I learned a lot about the game from the book, and I can understand a little more of the conversation–and starry-eyed face–of my college roommate who joined her local team just around the time the book came out.
Release date: July 25, 2016
Roller Girl is the third installment of Vanessa North’s “Lake Lovelace” series. It stars Tina Durham, a retired pro wake boarder, who finds herself at a crossroads in her life. One of her main concerns is relying on other people too much. After her divorce (which happens before the novel begins), she reflects on how her ex-wife had taken care of most of the day-to-day maintenance of the house, as well as other tasks. Tina asks herself throughout the story if she can take care of herself. Where is the line between asking for help and over relying on other people to solve her problems? Late one night, her washing machine goes on the fritz.
Enter Joanne “Joe Mama” Delario, coach of the local women’s roller derby team and plumber extraordinaire. It’s lust at first sight, though Joe also sizes Tina up as a perfect addition to the derby team. The two women hit it off and meet up for a casual date soon after. It’s Tina’s first foray into the dating world after her divorce and since she began publicly living as a woman.
When Tina shares her identity as trans woman on the first date, Joe isn’t fazed. The major kink in their relationship has nothing to do with Tina’s gender identity. Rather, it centers on whether or not the two of them dating will wedge the roller derby team apart. The last thing Tina wants is for her potential teammates to think that she was awarded special privileges by hooking up with the coach. She’s a professional athlete and prides herself on her hard work and skill. Support comes from all corners – her friends and their partners, Ben and Davis, Eddie and Wish; roller derby teammates; her boss and clients; and local media. Tina experiences a lot of game changing moments in her life over a short period of time, but the author does a good job of weaving them towards a satisfying conclusion.
The author makes sure that her leading lady experiences everything from the tremulous nerves of a first date to heart pounding sweaty sex to the ultimate question of what does this relationship mean to you and do we have a future? Tina doesn’t have “fade to black” or “the door slowly closes” sex. The bedroom scenes are respectful, but not to the extent that the women are held with kid gloves. Both women’s bodies are a beautiful tangle of limbs and pleasure, not objects of revulsion or something to be fetishized.
The Lake Lovelace Rollergirls give Tina an outlet for her competitive drive, as well as a chance to make new friends and join in a sisterhood of strong women. It’s been awhile since she’s participated in anything athletic outside of the small gym where she works as a personal trainer. The team interactions as the women gear up for practice, tryouts, and bouts, are fun, with a fair amount of mental and physical bruises. Tina comes up with a saucy, meaningful derby moniker, but I’ll leave that as a surprise.
Roller Derby is the first lesbian romance I’ve read that stars a transgender woman. It also features one of my favorite sports, roller derby. These women are hell on wheels, but are ultimately a welcoming and supportive bunch. The novel paints an overall positive picture for Tina, though there are enough hurdles in her path to cause interesting drama. If you’ve read lesbian novels with trans women as protagonists, please let me know in the comments section below!
The Women’s Flat Track Derby Association (WFTDA) has a gender statement on its website. It’s an inclusive organization where all are welcome. Go derby!
Women’s Flat Track Derby Association: https://wftda.com/wftda-gender-statement