When Annie moves from London to a small town in the midwest, she struggles to fit in. She gets off to a bad start when she makes an enemy of her school’s queen bee, Kelsey. But she discovers a new passion, the exciting sport of roller derby, and makes friends with the cool and quirky girls on her team, the Liberty Belles. She also meets Jesse, the friendly boy who works at the roller rink, and Tyler, a cute, all-American sports star.
I was browsing for titles when the cover for Roller Girls: Falling Hard caught my eye. While it’s bright pink cover and kookie styling, makes it hard to miss, what really grabbed my attention was the subject matter – a female dominated, full contact, team sport, populated by awesome kick arse women on retro quad skates* – like our protagonist, this Brit was ignorant, and fascinated.
Annie has had some experience at making difficult decisions. After the premature end of her gymnastics career (damn you, growth spurt) and her parents separation, she makes the difficult choice to leave her mother behind in England and move to the US, to the house her father grew up in, to support him in his dream of opening an English themed tea shop.
After some settling in time, which includes getting to grips with the local vernacular and everyone infuriatingly calling her accent cute, Anne decides that it is time to leave the shadow of her former sport and find a new passion. Now Annie has a new choice to make; does she utilise her hard earned Gymnastic skills and becoming a cheerleader with its cookie cutter aesthetic, instant popularity and ability to catch the attention of the football star? Or, does she take the harder road, starting from scratch in entirely new sport, with unfamiliar rules, new skills, risking the wrath of Kelsey and the resulting social suicide?
In some ways Falling Hard felt like every cheesy American high school movie I’ve ever seen, there were the mean but popular cheerleaders, the all America high school hottie, the mysterious boy, the kookie friend and the “so alternative they are cool” outsiders. Despite the stereotypes I found the book fresh and interesting. Roller Derby; the rules, the training, the plays and the characters, made up the majority of the story and I found that my interest was so captured by Annie’s exploration of the sport that my mind didn’t need to be complicated with extensive development of the secondary characters.
Annie felt much older than her fourteen years, not in the sense of adult like behavior but rather in her mature approach to the changes and challenges in her life. I loved Annie’s loyalty – to herself and to the positive influences she surrounded herself with.
I adored Annie’s Dad and their mutually supportive relationship. Not only was he very much present in her life (a rarity on YA fiction) in all of his embarrassing -dad glory but he was a fantastic role model for being yourself, following your dreams and making the hard but important choices; it was easy to see where Annie got her awesomeness from!
Falling hard made me wish that I could don some quad skates and join a Roller Derby. I think that this four book series has great potential. Not only am I looking forward to discovering how Annie fares with her new hobby, I am also really interested to witness the character development of the secondary characters, I feel as though some of them have interesting stories to tell. Not to mention Annie’s potential romance with one of two cute guys.
Although the publishers have recommended this read for 12-16 year olds I think that it would also be suitable for mature middle graders. The book is clean, with sweet lessons in friendship and being true to yourself.
Verdict: Like the sport of Roller derby, Roller Girls: Falling Hard was fun, fast and filled to the brim with girl power.
*I can’t believe I’ve just referred to the skates of my youth as retro. Just to be clear I was very young, and my “retro” quad skates were secondhand and white, with pink wheels and a My Little Pony motif
Ps. Annie makes Earl Grey Cupcakes. I LOVE Early Grey Cup Cakes! (See my recipe here)
Reviewed by Caroline