Danika reviews Kenzie Kickstarts a Team (The Derby Daredevils #1) by Kit Rosewater, illustrated by Sophie Escabasse

Kenzie Kickstarts a Team by Kit Rosewater

The Derby Daredevils is a middle grade series following a junior roller derby team, with an #ownvoices queer main character. Now, if you’re like me, you’ve already clicked away to order a copy or request it from your library. And that would be the correct response. I am jubilated that we are finally at the place in queer lit where a mainstream early chapter book can have an incidentally queer main character. Break out the streamers, people. We’ve made it!

But on to the book itself! Admittedly, I’m a little older than the target demographic. Kenzie and her friends are 10 years old. Her best friend, Shelly, and her are obsessed with roller derby. Kenzie’s mom is a derby girl, but she can’t try out herself until she’s 15–that is, until a junior derby league opens up. Shelly and Kenzie are ecstatic, but in order to make sure they can stay the Dynamic Duo (and not be broken up into different teams), they have to form a 5 person team and try out together. But will being part of team threaten their Dynamic Duo stasis?

This is aimed at 8-12, and I think it’s a perfect fit for kids at around the Wimpy Kid stage. It’s short, and packed full of illustrations! (They’re every 3 pages or so.) I loved seeing the diverse group of kids come together–diverse in terms of race and personality. Kenzie’s dad is trans, and I think this is the first book I’ve come across where that is casually mentioned. Kenzie refers to his life before transitioning as him being like an “undercover agent.” Later, when she realizes she has a crush on a girl, she empathizes with that status.

This is the first book in the series, and it’s under 200 pages, so we really just get an introduction to each of the characters (as they get added to the team), and an idea of their interactions. From what I’ve seen, I like the characters and their varied relationships: I look forward to seeing the dynamics develop over the course of the series, and to getting to know each of the characters individually. (I think each of the girls on the team will have their own point of view title, and at least one other character is implied to also be queer.) [spoiler:] It’s implied that Kenzie’s crush returns the sentiment, so we’ll see how that develops over the series! [end spoiler]

The next volume comes out in September, and I will definitely keep going with it! If you have any kids in your life in the 8-12 range, pick this one up for them! It’s shades of Baby-Sitters Club and Lumberjanes, with its own derby flair. Perfect for kid daredevils with or without skates!


Danika reviews Roller Girl by Vanessa North

I’ll preface this review by saying that I feel uncomfortable talking about a Riptide Publishing book right now. (I read this book before I heard about the racism and harassment happening behind the scenes at Riptide.) That being said, it’s a shame to punish all of the authors involved in this press (also, the editor of this book was not the one mentioned in the post), and I did really enjoy this title–which is one of the few trans F/F romance novels out there.

Roller Girl follows Tina, a trans woman who has recently divorced as well as retiring as a professional athlete. She’s adrift. So when she gets invited to play on the local roller derby team, she jumps at the opportunity. And it doesn’t hurt that the coach is a swoonworthy butch woman. They are drawn to each other, but Joe doesn’t want to endanger the team by admitting to dating a teammate, and Tina doesn’t want to stay a secret forever.

I don’t read a lot of romance, but I was delighted with this. Tina and Joe immediately click, and–at least initially–there’s a lot of open, healthy communication happening. They do both jump into angry tirades sometimes, but generally they try to talk to each other about their problems. (I hate when the entire conflict of the novel could be resolved if the characters just talked to each other.) I also loved that it was set in the world of roller derby! I don’t think any queer lady needs to explain why that’s a fun bonus.

I’m cisgender, and I don’t believe this is own voices representation, so I don’t want to be the arbiter of whether this is good trans representation, but I did really like reading a fun romance with a trans woman lead. It does come up in the story, but it’s just as much about Joe and Tina’s romance, or Tina’s journey to self-confidence, or trying to save the gym that she works at as a personal trainer. It’s a part of the story, but it’s not the whole story.

I wasn’t expecting this to get quite as steamy as it does! As I’ve noted, I’m still pretty new to the romance genre, and I was surprised by the amount and intensity of the sex scenes. I’m not complaining! I thought Tina and Joe had great chemistry, and they were very believable. But I did feel awkward reading it on the bus and in the break room at work!

This was a quick, fun read that I would definitely recommend.

Julie Thompson reviews Roller Girl (A Lake Lovelace novel) by Vanessa North

roller girl vanessa north

Riptide Publishing
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