By Dustin Cabeal
Spinning is not what I expected. I expected to get lost in the world of figure skating and to be taken back to fond memories of watching the Olympics with my mom. Either way, I expected to dive deep into the world of figure skating, and in many different ways, that’s exactly what Spinning did. Maybe it’s the fact that I don’t like to read what the book is about before reading the book. I just don’t work that way. I’ve never picked up a book, read the cover, then read the book and been like, “Jeez, I’m sure glad I read the damn cover first!”
It’s a bit of irony for me every time I write that sentiment in a review because I’m essentially asking people to read my review for the very same reason. Though I can say that I have benefitted many times from a review before picking up a book, a movie, any electronic device I’ve ever purchased and so much more.
Spinning is for everyone, let me make that clear first. It is also for anyone that may have loved another First Second title, This One Summer. While they are different narratives, one being fiction and the other, Spinning, being a memoir, they are awe inspiring stories. It has been a long time since something from First Second has touched me the way that This One Summer did. Spinning moved me. It melted my heart (which I will admit is fairly easy to do) and held my attention all the way through the nearly 2” thick graphic novel.
It’s also been a very difficult book for me to review. You may have noticed I haven’t told you much about it and that’s because there’s so much emotion attached to it that I feel I need to walk you through my journey with it. Spinning is the sixth review I’ve written today and the seventeenth book I’ve read in the past five days. It was the last book to come to my door, and I almost saved it for when I was done with my already out of control stack. It was certainly long enough that I could have justified to myself waiting on it. Instead, I felt compelled to read it, and it was all because of the cover. The brilliance of the design caught my eye in which the first with the glasses is the only one looking away. There is this sense of being lost on her face that I think everyone can relate to. I couldn’t shake it; I didn’t want to. It’s the same reason this wasn’t the first review I wrote or the last. I couldn’t shake the story, but I also couldn’t find where to start with it.
The author, Tillie Walden, is, of course, the main character of the story. It is a memoir after all. The story is a familiar one, one-day Tillie’s parents inform her and her brother’s that they’re moving from New Jersey to Texas. For Tillie, this up roots more than just her social life, but also her figure skating life. But the story is and isn’t about that. Me telling you a lot about Tillie’s life is redundant since that’s what the book is about.
In memoirs, I’ve found that there’s always something to relate to; it can be different for different people, but there is always something. For me, I related to how absent her parents were from her skating life. Never going to practices, never going to competitions. Let’s just say that I can relate to this in so many ways. Sometimes that’s all you need in order to put yourself in the character’s shoes.
What made Spinning a tremendous story was the pacing. Unlike a lot of memoirs that I’ve read, Spinning doesn’t get lost in the small details. The pacing is perfect and keeps the story moving along in such a way that you’re invested in continuing. I can’t compliment this enough because I have read too many memoirs in which the author thought every little detail that could be injected would make the story more human and interesting and it ended up being the exact opposite.
As a parent, I can’t help to also look at this story differently. It’s one of the strangest things, you have a kid, and suddenly you look at every story as potential teaching material for them. This story frustrated the hell out of me. The story didn’t provide me clear cut answers, nor does any story. Life has taught me that you have to be present and paying attention, then and only then can you figure out what to do in any given situation, but fuck… that doesn’t change the helpless feelings I felt while reading this story. Which is a credit to Walden’s writing because she was able to bring that emotion out of me and I didn’t even have to go through the situations she did. And as a parent, I hope my child won’t either.
The artwork for Spinning is awe inspiring. I kid you not, Walden’s style is so perfect for the story. It looks elegant in its presentation, but not to the point that it doesn’t look relatable. It’s clean and simple line work, not overly detailed and yet somehow extremely detailed. Then there are so many artistic elements that mimic how the mind works. At one point there’s a sequence that happens, I don’t want to spoil it, but later in the story, Tillie says that it was all so blurry and in looking back at that scene, it’s all so blurry as well. Obviously, it would have been easy to add details, but that’s not the point of the scene or the artwork.
The artwork is emotionally deep. You’re able to gaze upon it and it along and get all of the emotion that Walden was feeling. It had to be an incredibly difficult story to illustrate because of that. To relive all those emotions that most of us seek so hard to put behind us. I can’t even imagine the amount of courage that takes, but I thank Walden for sharing it and illustrating it so wonderfully.
I feel very confident in saying that Spinning is my front runner and will likely be my graphic novel of the year. Nothing else comes to mind that’s even remotely close to this level of storytelling and artwork. Since I never research my reviews, it’s very likely that you can’t even purchase this book yet, but when you’re able to, do so. Pre-order it so that it arrives on your door step (hopefully not smashed inside like my copy was) and so that you can relish in how big of a book it is. At first, you’ll be intimidated by that. You’ll think, I don’t have the time for that today. Maybe you won’t, but when you do have the time, you’ll notice that young girl with glasses on the cover that looks lost. You’ll remember that feeling and crack open the first page. Two and half hours later you’ll be done reading the book, but Spinning won’t have left you. It’ll resonate with you the way your memories of childhood often do, and that’s exactly what any great book should.
Score: 5/5 (Really I give this a 10/5)
Author: Tillie Walden
Publisher: First Second Books