I love comics; I’m heartily devoted to the MCU (and, to somewhat a lesser degree, the DCEU); I am all about the fanfic that springs up around all of my favorite mainstream comic characters, but I have a confession: I don’t actually usually enjoy reading comic books all that much. I don’t know what it is about the medium – I know I’m a text over pictures kinda gal, but I love so much of the art of comic books, that I don’t think that’s my main problem. And I had thought it was the serial nature of comic books that didn’t much appeal to me – that maybe I didn’t have the patience that episodic books required, but that’s patently untrue, bc I’m on book 50? of one series and I am subscribed to at least three hundred in progress works on A03, so that’s not it either. I think though, that it’s that I don’t get out of the house enough for comic books – I can’t be at the comic book store every Tuesday, or even one Tuesday every month – and so the books that I am interested in, I usually fall too far behind in, then it falls off my radar at some point. But, thanks in part to my fellow Cannonballers, I’ve discovered the joy that is compilations: Finished runs! The whole story at once!
Still the book I’m reviewing today is definitely far enough from what I’d usually read to be considered for the ‘out of my wheelhouse’ square on the bingo card: It’s neither Marvel nor DC, nor a superhero book, per se, which isn’t something I’d probably even have seen all that long ago… Definitely more a graphic novel than a comic. Luckily, my sister happened upon it last Christmas and gifted it to me, and so Spinning by Tillie Walden wound up on my TBR mountain.
And I’m really glad it did.
The story is Tillie’s memoir, basically, of a specific time in her life – from about sixth grade til she graduates from high school – and it’s one of the most thoughtful and almost too realistic portrayals of what adolescence is like for young girls that it almost made me physically hurt for her. I mean, I’m a pretty empathetic audience – quick to cry, constantly cringing (or fast forwarding) in secondhand embarrassment, jubilant when everything works out just right – but there was something about juxtaposition of the graceful, delicate almost pencil line drawings and the constant clumsy, fumbling, wrongness of how she was feeling that just hit me right in the gut.
The book is both powerful and poignant, but it’s also more than a little bit funny. I also cannot stress enough just how much the hurt feeling reminded me so specifically of actually being 13-14 and being saturated in that combination of discomfort and frozen-sameness, the shock of things that are both rapidly changing and never changing. As Tillie grows from a middle schooler to a high schooler, as she moves from the east coast to the west, as she struggles with a possible learning disability, as she remains gay and closeted and invisible to her parents and at odds with her twin brother, and so unsure of herself and where she fits in in the world, every change is both too big and too small to suit her: “Nothing felt easy, but at least it wasn’t new anymore.” At sixteen, when she says “The future felt so close”, wow, did 39 year old me want to go back twenty years and warn both teenage me, and her, for thinking the same thing: The future will ALWAYS feel close, doofus – but you are never gonna catch it: you just get a bunch of todays that pack together into yesterdays.
The thing is that Walden is looking at her yesterdays (from this specific period in her life), with a very bright light – She talks about a lot of really rough stuff, about her feelings of powerlessness and of being lost and not knowing how to be in control of her own life, even as she (literally) skates from one day to the next, one competition to the next. (And, as an aside: Did Walden ever nail the feeling of being at competitions; I was a competitive dancer for years as a teenager, and from the panels of Tillie in her hotel room or pressing buttons in the elevator with such glee at being a l o n e to the ones of them all standing around waiting endlessly and being terrified when it was finally their turn to perform, she managed to capture the whole experience perfectly.) Honestly, in the author’s note at the end of the book, Walden says she’d written Spinning to share a feeling – and that’s 100% what she did. She somehow managed to capture the feelings of being a young girl, without whitewashing it in that nostalgia bath so many other memoirs approach adolescence with, and leaves you to sit there, feeling all of that angst and unease and discomfort, but tempering it enough with the humor and happenstance of ordinary life so that empathetic readers like myself can actually finish and enjoy the whole thing. That’s a tough balancing act, and I’m super impressed with how Walden pulled it off.