Remember those awkward teenager moments when you thought, I am going to die before I make it through this? Tillie Walden has captured those moments — her moments — in an exquisite two color graphic novel, Spinning.
The art, also by Walden, is simple but beautiful. Instead of the typical black and white, Walden chose to use shades of dark purple with pops of yellow. Using these contrasting colors against white space is a brilliant choice. The yellow appears sporadically throughout to emphasize a significant emotion or impactful moment.
Walden explores many themes in Spinning. There is the overarching coming-of-age theme mixed with dealing with loss, personal trauma and understanding your sexual identity. Walden shares many stories about when she felt awkward or that she did not fit in. She writes of the powerful feeling of winning as well as the helplessness of being bullied. Walden is exceptional at depicting these influential moments and making them relatable to the audience. Every reader will compare at least one to their own life.
One particularly powerful moment is when Tillie begins to explore her sexuality. Her explanation of the rollercoaster of emotions is divine, beginning with the elation of that first kiss and ending in fear of being discovered. As if it’s not tough enough to be a teenager, add to the mix the fear of being chastised for your choice of partner. This a great example of Walden’s use of yellow — The yellow coming through the window serves as a spotlight on their fear.
The precision and literal coldness of skating served as Tillie’s shield for many years. She would throw herself into a competition to propel herself forward. This strive for greatness allowed her to maintain a routine to make herself stronger. Walden cleverly intersperses skating movements into the novel. Each move correlates with Tillie’s feelings at one point in her life, sometimes on the rink and other times off.
Many times people cling to things even if we no longer care for them. We keep going through the motions and hanging on to these routines because they are comfortable. They are what we know and we cannot imagine our life without this behavior. Perhaps at one time, they gave us pleasure or comfort but when we outgrow them we find it hard to let go. This is how Tillie Walden felt about skating. Many years ago she felt a much-needed comfort from her coach, Barbara; a mother-like figure that listened to her, praised her and held her. Barbara is gone and Tillie is still circling the ice looking for that feeling. It will take many years for her to understand what she needs to fill that emptiness.
Did I like it? Tillie Walden’s Spinning elegantly captures the nuances of awkward moments.