Tillie Walden, in her most recent graphic novel, Spinning, details her eventful teenage life as a figure skater. Her memoir begins with her move to Austin at the age of 11, taking us through to her eventual decision to quit figure skating at the age of 17.
The book’s main theme is Walden’s time as a figure skater; it examines both synchronization and individual practices. The circular narrative of the novel demonstrates the importance of this plot – it begins as Walden re-enters the ice skating rink for the first time two years after she first quit, and finishes with her looking at her overall experiences over the years, focusing on the memories she has gained.
However, the autobiography moves from detailing the intricacies of figure-skating and becomes a more detailed overview of her whole life, including her ‘coming out’. Themes of sexuality and coming-of-age are pertinent to the novel, and Walden relates these events in a way which enables readers to connect. It is also a very honest depiction of her life; she includes traumatic details about her experiences of severe bullying and sexual harassment.
Utilising the form of the graphic novel enables Walden to present events that may otherwise have lost impact – the visual portrayal adds a new depth. However, it is a style that perhaps demands a certain level of familiarity. It is easy to feel that the book lacks a plot as it is not driven by descriptions or dialogue: this is instead replaced with a reliance on the visual elements of the novel.
It would, however, be a good choice for those interested in exploring the graphic novel genre in a new light. It does not rely on stereotypical functions of the genre – for example, those involving superheroes – which some may find off-putting. It also does well to rejuvenate the genre of memoir for a younger generation; rather than coming across as self-indulgent or false, the novel’s honest nature makes it an enjoyable read.
Despite being only 21 now, Walden’s narrative offers a sense of reflection over her adolescence. It is an accurate depiction of real-life events, yet is also able to portray emotion in a way that touches the reader and makes it easy to identify with Walden’s experience. In summary, Spinning’s employment of the graphic novel form blends positively with her choice to write a memoir, as it further emphasises its personal elements. Her work embodies universal themes to connect to the readers and makes Walden as an author seem more tangible than can be the case with other writers.
The only thing to note is the serious nature of the issues which may be upsetting to some readers, but they are, it must be noted, important topics to discuss.
Spinning by Tillie Walden