It seems ridiculous to try to explain why roller derby appeals to queer women. A woman-centric sport? People with different body types playing a hardcore sport together? Puns? What’s not to love? Unfortunately, there have not been nearly enough books or movies to capitalize on the inherent potential of an amazing F/F roller derby romance. (I’m looking at you, Whip It.) I have been able to put together a list of 10 sapphic books that feature roller derby, but unfortunately, this is a very white list. There is one book on this list out in 2021 by an author of colour, but I hope that publishers seek out more roller derby stories from a variety of authors in the future, offering different points of view, because there’s no reason this list should be so white.
Kenzie Kickstarts a Team (The Derby Daredevils #1) by Kit Rosewater, illustrated by Sophie Escabasse
One of the most exciting things I’ve seen in queer lit in the last five years or so is the emergence of LGBTQ middle grade novels! For a long time, we had picture books and YA, and nothing in between. The Derby Daredevils is a series about a junior roller derby team started by Kenzie, who is the point of view character in this first volume. Her mother is a derby girl, and she desperately wants her and her best friend to play in the new junior league, which means they have to put together a team, pronto. This is an adorable short chapter book with tons of illustrations, and a diverse cast of characters in terms of race, personality, and body types. Kenzie has a crush on a girl, and she also has a trans dad. This is a perfect pick for kids just starting to get into chapter books. (Or adults, because I loved it.)
Bruised by Tanya Boteju (March 2021)
Okay, I’m a little early on this, because Bruised doesn’t come out until 2021, but I am eagerly awaiting it. From the author of Kings, Queens, and In-Betweens, this follows Daya, who is just beginning in the roller derby world. She and her parents were in an accident, and only she survived; since then, she’s been looking for ways to deal with it, usually by throwing herself into physically painful situations. She hopes that the bruises from roller derby will distract her from the emotional pain, but being part of this community ends up meaning a lot more than an excuse to throw herself into danger. I’m not sure of the exact sapphic content in this yet, but I’ve been assured that it’s there, and given her previous novel, I see no reason to doubt that!
On a Roll (Lumberjanes Volume 9) by Shannon Watters, Kat Leyh, Carolyn Nowak, Maarta Laiho, Aubrey Aiese, and Brooklyn Allen
There’s never a bad reason to read Lumberjanes, and volume 9 just happens to include a roller derby bout against some yetis. Lumberjanes has been queer from the beginning, with an adorable romance between two of the girls, and it also has trans representation in the later volumes. This volume even has a nonbinary character who starts using gender neutral pronouns and is immediately accepted! As always, this is just a fun, happy read.
Jennifer and Maise meet at “Fresh Meat” orientation and immediately hit it off—unfortunately, they’re put onto different teams. As they go from being rookies to finding their places on their teams, they begin to grow apart. Does this sound like the beginning of a friends-to-rivals romance? It does. Unfortunately, this isn’t that, but we do get a lesbian character in Jennifer (who is on the cover). Part of the appeal of roller derby is the close-knit friendships and community that grow from being part of a team, and that’s what Slam! focuses on—so this is more about the romance of friendship!
I might have done a romance bait-and-switch with Slam!, but don’t worry: most of the books on this list are proper romances. Roller Girl is about Tina, who is a recently divorced trans woman looking for a fresh start. When her very attractive butch plumber Joanna recommends roller derby, she jumps at the chance. The only problem is that Joanna is the coach, which means the plumber/derby girl is off limits. Will they be able to resist their mutual attraction? Will the sexual tension ever be resolved? Okay, yes, obviously. But will they be able to keep their secret relationship from the team?
Dot Mauser is the “bad girl” of the roller derby rink. As far as she’s concerned, the referee Kat has it out for her. Little does she know that while Kat is handing Dot plenty of penalties, she has her eye on her for different reasons. During the derby’s Pride event, these two find out that they’re both artists: Dot upcycles “junk” and Kat is a photographer. They form an unlikely alliance, though Dot is sure Kat hates her. There’s plenty of drama, and some darker topics than the premise would suggest, but there’s also a lot of heat between the two characters. Bonus: this is written by a roller derby girl herself, with a preface and appendix with more information.
Megan’s life revolves around roller derby, and she takes it very seriously. Yes, she’s constantly surrounded by beautiful women, but she’s never let that distract her. That is, until she finds herself falling head over heels (literally) for the opposing team’s blocker Gianna. Megan is determined to keep her focus on the competition, but it’s definitely hard to keep her eyes on the prize when she can’t stop looking at her opponent. This is a quick, fun romance with a fat love interest and some steamy scenes.
Virginia Harris is the star of a lesbian web series, and it’s gone to her head. She’s used to being recognized, and has no problem finding women. So it shouldn’t come as a surprise when she is told by Allison that she was catfished by someone using her photo. Allison seems like the perfect girl, but she’s disheartened by the whole dating app experience and is ready to jump back into roller derby before she meets Virginia—can she separate the real Virginia from the catfish version she just fell for? This is one for fans of complex and “unlikable” female characters, because Virginia is a divisive love interest.
And now for something completely different. Roller Deb is an outcast in her town, but when her popular sister goes missing, it’s up to her to rescue her. In her search, she finds a world of trolls, fairies, gangsters, and a bloodthirsty version of roller derby. This is a dark fantasy and includes sex, drugs, and violence. Roller Deb first is pulled into this world as part of her rescue mission, but her roller derby skills make her powerful and sought-after here, and she will have to resist being pulled under completely if she wants to escape with her sister.
While I may hold roller derby’s appeal to queer women to be self-evident, Margot Atwell wrote a Huffington Post article called Why Is Roller Derby Important To So Many Queer Women? In it, she talked about why she wanted to honour queer women in her kickstarted roller derby colouring book, including how being part of the roller derby community helped her to discover her own sexuality and come out. This includes several portraits of queer roller derby role models.
And that’s it for sapphic roller derby books I could find! Feel free to let me know (@lesbrary) if I missed any! There is also a novella in Hot Ice: 3 Romance Novellas: “Ice on Wheels” by Aurora Rey, so there’s a bonus for you. I hope that in the coming years, we’ll see many more queer roller derby books come out, whether they’re F/F romances, nonbinary YA novels, bisexual comics, or anything else under the rainbow & roller derby umbrella!
This post originally ran on Book Riot.