Tuesday, October 20, 2009

17. Derby Girl by Shauna Cross

Colin brought this book home from the library one day and proceeded to breeze through it, oftentimes chuckling. His obvious enjoyment annoyed me to no end, as I was in the middle of An American Tragedy and basically hating life. I had to check out Derby Girl for myself, especially because we were both obsessed with seeing the movie adaptation, Whip It, as soon as possible. Not only did the trailer look awesome, but we got to attend a promotional event at a roller rink by our apartment and see Drew Barrymore in person (she is TINY). We even stole a poster on our way out. Yay!

Derby Girl is the story of Bliss Cavendar, a blue haired, indie-rock loving misfit struck in the tiny town of Bodeen, Texas. Her pageant-addicted mother expects her to compete for the coveted Miss Blue Bonnet crown, but Bliss would rather feast on roaches than be subjected to such rhinestone tyranny. Bliss' escape? Take up Roller Derby. When she discovers a league in nearby Austin, Bliss embarks on an epic journey full of hilarious tattooed girls, delicious boys in bands, and a few not-so-awesome realities even the most bad-assed derby chick has to learn.

(BTW, I picked up the official plot summary because I was a little daunted to sum it up myself. I wanted to do it justice, and nothing I wrote came out right.)

I was not surprised to learn that Cross is a screenwriter. The novel seemed to follow the arcs of a movie, if that makes sense. It was a quick, enjoyable read. I think that this book is technically aimed at "young adults" (read: younger than me) but I found it to be very relatable. The all-consuming passion for a new project, the heady excitement of a first boyfriend, the sobering realization that you've neglected your best friend in the world and she has every right to be pissed -- who hasn't experienced some of those highs and lows at some point? I especially liked how Bliss' relationships -- with her friends, boyfriend, parents -- were realistic. It would have been easy to make the Cavendar parents one-dimensional and unsympathetic, but instead Cross fleshed out enough details to really show the many layers of complicated parent-child relationships. Yes, your mom can be overbearing and exasperate you, but she can also comfort you after the fall-out from breaking the cardinal rule -- Never date a boy in a band!

I only have two complaints about the book, but even those don't really take away from it. For the record, I wish that the rules of roller derby had been explained. Come on, let's have a little exposition! Some of us have never seen the sport in action. Also, Bliss fit pretty neatly into this indie girl mold. When she noticed that everyone had on Converse shoes at a party in Austin and felt relieved that she hadn't been able to buy a pair because the trend was obviously becoming passe, it bothered me. If you're truly "indie" what do you care about the trendiness of your shoes? Although to be fair, most 16 year olds are dying to fit in somewhere, regardless of how unique they proclaim to be.

Whip It is a great adaptation. We had the good fortune to go to two (two!) free screenings. The tweaks they made from the novel both set it apart and enhanced it. I think Drew Barrymore definitely has a future as a director if she wants it. You could tell there was a solid and consistent creative voice at the helm. The casting was dead on -- Ellen Page totally embodies Bliss and her alter ego Babe Ruthless and, let me tell you, that girl can skate. Kristen Wiig is hilarious as Bliss' mentor, Maggie Mayhem, who is supportive but doesn't hesitate to give Bliss a reality check when needed. Andrew Wilson killed it as Razor, the derby coach. This role was beefed up from the book, and it totally worked. His scenes were among my favorite. Juliette Lewis was born to play Iron Maven, captain of the Holy Rollers and Bliss' arch rival. I was a little sad that they dropped the line "Never date a boy in a band!" from the movie; it worked so well in the book, but the depiction of Bliss and her first boyfriend Oliver still worked without it. My only real complaint? They explained the rules of roller derby -- one or two too many times. Come on, I'm a savvy movie-goer, I can keep up! It's not a major complaint, though; I mostly thought it was funny after the book didn't explain the rules at all.

By the way, did you know that Stryper is a real band? I don't know very much about the history of Christian metal bands, so when I read about Bliss' favorite Stryper t-shirt in the book, I assumed it was made up. It wasn't until after the first free screening that Colin set me straight. He has a dark past and so is more knowledgeable about such things.


Hyacinth said...

Oh yes, yes, Stryper is a real band. I love them! I actually saw them back in the day (1989 I think it was). I can't wait to see this film and now can't wait to read the book. Thanks for adding it to your list.

Magnolia said...

Yay, I'm glad you're excited for both! I enjoyed them tremendously. And I'm sure the parts with Stryper will make you laugh out loud!