10 Queer Roller Derby Books for When You Miss the Track

10 Queer Roller Derby Books for When You Miss the Track graphic

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 by Kit RosewaterKenzie 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 BotejuBruised 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)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.

Slam! by Pamela Ribon and Veronica FishSlam! by Pamela Ribon and Veronica Fish

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!

Roller Girl by Vanessa NorthRoller Girl by Vanessa North

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?

Kat & Mouse by Jacqueline HeatKat & Mouse by Jacqueline Hear

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.

Crash Into You by Diana MorlandCrash Into You by Diana Morland

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.

The Real Thing by Laney WebberThe Real Thing by Laney Webber

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.

Troll or Derby by Red TashTroll or Derby by Red Tash

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.

Color Jam Roller Derby Coloring Book by Margot AtwellColor Jam Roller Derby Coloring Book by Margot Atwell

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.

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 Fat Angie by e.E. Charlton-Trujillo

Fat Angie by e.E. Charlton-TrujilloWhen I initially picked up Fat Angie, I was put off by the language. At first, I thought it was outdated slang, cringingly unrealistic. As I kept reading though, I realized that it wasn’t dated, because I don’t think anyone has ever spoken like that. Instead, it has more in common with buffyisms–a kind of fictional teen speak that somehow represents teen slang without reproducing it. It makes sense, since BtVS is mentioned several times. As I kept reading, I got acclimatized to the language, though it definitely adds a distinct flavour to the text.

[trigger warning: discussion of harassment, hatred, emotional abuse, cutting, suicide] This is not a light read. Yes, the main character is referred to as “Fat Angie” the entire time. And body image is a part of what she deals with, but that doesn’t begin to scratch the surface. Angie faces hatred and harassment from all sides, constantly. She is relentlessly mocked at school, sometimes also being shoved or physically bullied. Her sister was a solider in Iraq who was captured, and her hostage situation was televised. She has been missing for many months, and everyone except Angie thinks she’s dead. Unable to deal with the grief, Angie cut her wrists with the intention of killing herself. She ran out in this state during a school assembly. She is targeted for being “crazy” as well as being fat. At home, things are no better. Her brother regularly levels the worst insults and harassment at her. Her mother is negligent at best and often emotionally abusive as well. She says, “No one is ever going to love you if you stay fat.” Angie’s therapist is a font of judgement. There seems to be no break from the hell that is Angie’s life. [A note during this trigger paragraph: Angie does lose weight during the book. She doesn’t end skinny, and it doesn’t really solve her problems, but it is seen as a positive, to do be prepared if that’s triggering for you.] [end trigger warnings]

The only bright spot is when a new, cool, rebel-type girl–KC Valentine–transfers into their school and befriends Angie. She doesn’t seem to mind that Angie is hated by the rest of the school, or that she’s anxious and awkward. To Angie’s surprise, their friendship develops into a romance. But they are in a conservative town, and Angie doesn’t know if she can handle the backlash she’d get for being openly “gay-girl gay” on top of everything else dragging her down.

To be honest, I found this a little bit exhausting to read. Angie is so isolated, and she faces a wall of relentless harassment. There are small moments of connection and support–the gym teacher, Jake (Angie’s neighbour)–but they are muted and far between. Even the romance isn’t an entirely happy one. I wasn’t expecting this to be fluffy, but it far exceeded how dark I was prepared for it to be. I will be picking up the sequel as well, but I will cross my fingers that there’s a little more hope mixed in with the despair in that one.

Rebecca reviews Gold by E.J. Noyes

Gold by E.J. Noyes cover

E.J. Noyes’ Gold is a sports-centred novel with a great and relatable protagonist and a very steamy and sweet romance.

Our protagonist is Aspen Archer, a former Olympic skier whose career ended after a disastrous injury. With her body and spirit broken, Aspen hides out at ski resorts, coaching tourists and avoiding her problems. While coaching at a ski resort in Australia, she meets the beautiful Cate Tierney. Cate is a physical therapist, has a teenage daughter and is recovering from a painful relationship. There’s an instant and intense attraction between Aspen and Cate. However, both women have lots of emotional baggage. Can they be more than just a vacation fling? Can Aspen take control of her life to have the future that she longs for?

The aptly-named Aspen is a wonderfully written character. I felt for her as she struggled through panic attacks and chronic pain. I rooted for her when she finally took charge of her life and rediscovered herself. While I do like Cate, I didn’t fully warm up to her because I couldn’t connect with her and I felt like I didn’t know her.

The secondary characters are interesting and well-written. I really like Cate’s daughter, Gemma and Aspen’s student, Stacey. However, I wish Aspen’s relationships with both teens were more developed because they could have been much more meaningful and memorable than they were. Additionally, other characters like Aspen’s hilarious sister Hayley sometimes disappeared from the narrative unnaturally.

I like that the book examines issues like Aspen’s former addiction to painkillers and how it hurt her life and family. However, the book does drag a little. I wish that the plot had been more exciting and slightly less predictable. But, Noyes creates such great characters that I remained invested in them.

The romance between Aspen and Cate is well-written. There’s believable conflict, some sweet moments and enough super steamy scenes to get your pulse racing. Seriously…you may not want to read this book in public!

Although I couldn’t fully connect with Cate and I wish some aspects of the plot were better developed, Gold is a good read with great characters and a sweet romance. If you’re looking for a sports-themed book with a lovely happy ever after, give this one a try!

Rebecca is a Creative Writing student and freelance proofreader. Come say hi: https://rebeccareviews.tumblr.com/

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 Heart of the Game by Rachel Spangler

Sports journalist Sarah Duke lives for the crack of a bat and a deep hit caught at the wall. After years busting her chops reporting college baseball games on up, dealing with sexist locker rooms, fans, and colleagues, Duke finally scores her dream job: covering the St. Louis Cardinals. At the season opener, she meets a young fan with as much passion for the game as she. Duke also becomes smitten with the boy’s mother, Molly Grettano. The single mother juggles career, family, and the expectations that she deals with from others and herself. While she dances with the idea of dating as a newly out lesbian, Molly’s long hours balancing managerial aspirations at her restaurant job with her two young sons come first.

Throughout the story, the fierce loves that Duke and Molly live and breathe conflict with how they want their romantic dreams to play out. Both women have worked their asses off to get where they are and compromise doesn’t come easy. Duke exudes easy charm and her enthusiasm for baseball is infectious. She breaks down all of life’s ups and downs into baseball terms, which might wear thin for some readers, but comes across as natural for Duke. Molly worries her kids, especially precocious baseball super fan Joe, might get too attached to Duke. The kids are an integral part of the story, not a tacked on afterthought. One of my sister’s recently started dating again and she can attest that it isn’t easy, especially with kids.

Towards the end of the story I wondered if an Happy Ever After was really in the cards. And then, because of Spangler’s skillful storytelling and respect for her characters, I realized that any way it ended would satisfy. As Duke would say, this story reveals more than its box score indicates. Friendship, family bonds, and love resonate in this contemporary romance.

I haven’t followed baseball since the Seattle Mariners’ golden era (1995-2001). Rachel Spangler’s sports romance, Heart of the Game, however, gets me excited for the start of Major League Baseball at the end of March and for local minor league games where every seat is a good one. Fresh cut grass, peanut shells underfoot, and the swell of the crowd, and everyone dancing the latest craze in tandem (the only time I’ve ever seen a thousand people of all ages do the Macarena). What could be better?

For anyone participating in Lesbian Book Bingo, this novel satisfies the Sports Romance square.

Whitney D-R reviews Motor Crush Volume 1

Domino Swift lives Nova Honda, a city where almost everyone lives and breathes racing.  You’re either a sponsored racer in the World Grand Prix or racing at night against biker gangs.

If you’re Domino Swift, you do both.

From the very first page, you’re rooting for Domino.  You want her to “crush” the competition, even if you’re first introduced to Domino when she’s racing a slew of biker gangs– and kicking all their butts.  These night races, called cannonballs, are a new definition of racing for pinks.  Instead of the pink slips to cars one would win at the end of a race, Domino is racing for a neon pink substance called crush.  Crush is mostly used to give a biker’s engine a boost, but Domino needs it to survive.

Domino must lead a double life and it causes contention with the people she loves, namely her ex-girlfriend, Lola.  (Though I hope they’ll get back together in the next volume.) Even though they’re not together, you can tell the love is still there between them.  Domino still tries to protect Lola when she’s get in trouble with some loan sharks.  They initially broke up because Domino kept Lola in the dark about her nightly activities and who she really is.  Lola wanted an all-open, honest relationship with Domino or nothing at all.  But how can Domino be honest when she doesn’t even know who she is or where she came from?

How can you tell the woman you’re in love with that when you take a neon drug meant for motors, you become one with the speed force?  Is she some human-machine hybrid?

There’s more questions than answers so far in this series, but you’ll be instantly sucked into to this high-stakes world.  The art is vivid and gorgeous, the storyline easy to follow, and I can’t wait for the next volume.


Susan reviews Spinning by Tillie Walden

Spinning is a graphic memoir by Tillie Walden about the ten years she spent as a competitive figure skater. It’s beautiful and compelling, but in some ways it’s a hard read.

Everything I know about skating I picked up from Yuri!!! On Ice fandom, so I couldn’t speak to how accurate it is, but her explanations of how figure skating, jumps, and synchronised skating works are fascinating. Especially because she does touch on the explicit feminine coding and potential toxicity of enforcing that on kids! But learning how different moves are structured and how much work goes in is fascinating! Especially because while it structures and shapes Tillie Walden’s life throughout Spinning, it’s not the only thing going on.

The narrative is very narrow in its focus – it’s very deeply into Tillie Walden’s experiences and feelings in a way that works well with the structure of the narrative. The afterword specifically says that it was deliberate; it was about “sharing a feeling” rather than the specific events, and it is definitely successful at that. It frees her from doing a linear chronology, and lets her group events by feeling or what makes sense, which means that it’s more of a coherent story despite being a memoir.

The specific events swing between hopeful and exciting to bleak within the space of pages – the demands of skating and Tillie Walden’s coping strategies to deal with exhaustion and despair are really well depicted. The bleakness and monotony of her feelings towards skating are really well contrasted with her feelings for art and music as her interests change and move; the fun she has with her friends and the validation she gets from winning contrast with her feelings of fear. Her relationship and and coming out also come under this, but neither of which go well so brace yourselves for on-page homophobia. The way that Tillie Walden talks about her first relationship bringing her fear as well as everything else young love is supposed to bring is heartbreaking.

Tillie Walden’s regrets – that her bully left the school before she found the courage to stand up for herself; that she wasn’t a better friend, that quitting skating was so anticlimactic – were all completely understandable and relatable, and the way the art conveyed them made me feel for her. The art is great, and it has a lot of the things that I loved about “i love this part” – it has a limited pallet of dark blue, grey, and yellow, which was used to great effect to convey the mood without words. I especially love the way that she’ll give a quiet moment an entire page to itself to let its emotional weight rest, especially because most of the book has a very regular page structure.

Spinning is a really interesting, emotional, and compelling memoir that works really well with the art to tell its story. It also left me completely emotionally drained by the time I was done with it, which is a recommendation if that’s what you’re in the mood for!

Caution warning: sexual assault, homophobia, bullying.

Susan is a library assistant who uses her insider access to keep her shelves and to-read list permanently overflowing. She can usually be found writing for Hugo-winning media blog Lady Business or bringing the tweets and shouting on twitter.