Dot Mauser makes sculptures from junk in her father’s garage. She doesn’t think they’re very good, so she keeps her art for herself. At roller derby she’s known as Mouse. Mouse races around the track without fearing anything. She has more penalties than any other skater, but she knows it’s just because the ref has it in for her.
Kat Brooks is a struggling photographer with a lot of secrets. She also has a little habit of running away from her problems. Kat is—without a doubt—the best referee in Crosscannon Roller Derby League. She stands her ground when challenged and rarely misses a call, even though she has a huge crush on the star blocker.
When a lost pin shaped like catnip forces Mouse to speak to Kat, she finds out that she misjudged the ref and the two of them become friends. One thing threatens to tear them apart, roller derby. Kat knows her calls are right. Mouse is convinced Kat is wrong.
Dot is such an interesting character. I don’t want to spoil too much of Dot’s story for readers, but she is a lot more nuanced than she first appears. It wasn’t until I reached the final 20% of the novel that her actions in the 80% of the novel made sense. Right from the get go there was something about Dot’s behavior that didn’t make sense in some situations.
I really loved that Dot is forging her own way in the world. Both Kat and Mouse have such a millennial experience in this story. Both struggle financially in a way that many millennials will resonate with. What is different is that Dot recognizes that everyone else’s ideal doesn’t need to be hers. That’s a powerful story that we don’t see enough of. Dot knows that she should want to move out of her dad’s house because she’s almost 30, but it’s not what either her or her father want.
Kat goes on such a journey throughout this novel, and it’s a pleasure to watch her grow. In so many ways, this story isn’t just a romance but a story of Kat finding her family. As the novel progresses, she starts to realize the people she surrounded herself with care about her and that is such a beautiful thing to know. It is made even more powerful given she doesn’t have the support network that Dot has. She cut all ties with her family after her homophobic parents attempted to send her to conversion therapy.
Dot and Kat are both stubborn which makes for a lot of tension at times, but it is a tension that is deliciously enjoyable. Plus, it culminates in some of the best angry sex I’ve ever read.
The Writing Style
I almost put this book down a couple of times in the beginning. The first couple of chapters were very contrived. The lost pin that just happens to be Kat’s is the most obvious example. This contrived situation paired with chapter one beginning with a hard to follow roller derby bout was enough to make me question whether this book was for me. I kept reading because I love roller derby and I’m glad I did.
The book really found it’s stride when Kat and Mouse start getting to know one another. There is a section where the characters head to a huge market and from there onward, the book hooked me. The dialogue between these two is spot on, as is the character development. Mouse, in particular, has such a complex characterization that I have to commend Heat for doing such a good job of showing her progression.
One other thing I wanted to mention in terms of style, there are a few scenes that involve roller derby bouts. I found the action in these scenes difficult to follow. There is an explainer at the start of the book about the fictional Crosscannon Roller Derby League as well as a glossary of roller derby terms at the end. However, I went into the novel already familiar with these things and still found these scenes a little difficult to follow along with.
I love seeing more books with a roller derby theme. While I have zero balance or skating ability, I love roller derby. So much so that my never to be completed PhD thesis explored the world of roller derby. I especially love seeing roller derby portrayed as both a queer space and a space for found family.
The thing I can’t move on without mentioning again is the characterization of Kat and Mouse. The arcs for both these characters are woven so well into the story. There is a realism in their stories that I gravitate toward.
The early pacing of this novel is a con for me. I love a novel that grips me early on. However, that’s the only con.
I would like to mention a couple of content warnings though. There are a couple of spoilers in this paragraph, skip ahead to the conclusion if mention of conversion therapy and mental illness (borderline personality disorder and self-harm) is enough information for you. While Kat never goes through conversion therapy, there is a mention of her aunt who was put through conversion therapy as well as the effects it had on her. In terms of borderline personality disorder, I debated including this at all but ultimately decided to add it. Mouse is in recovery from borderline personality disorder and throughout the novel we see her spiraling into some unhealthy thought patterns and behaviors related to that, culminating in self-harm (she hits a tree and breaks her hand). This book offered a great reminder to me how quickly attitudes and language can change. It wasn’t so long ago that I studied psychology at university, including borderline personality disorder. At that time, the attitude was one of management rather than recovery for all personality disorders. Today, it is understood (at least for borderline personality disorder) that it is possible to achieve recovery, though relapses such as Dot’s are not uncommon. Being able to learn something new is one of the greatest pleasures of reading.
This novel of love found at roller derby is raw, emotionally touching, and the sex is hot. It’s slow to get started but has fantastic characterization. There are a lot of found family feels and a sense of discovery as the characters figure out who they are and what they want.
If you enjoyed Whip It but wished it were a little gayer (I certainly did), this is a great book for you.
Excerpt from Kat And Mouse by Jacquelyn Heat
Oh great. There was no mistaking that voice. Somebody must have told her who’d left the box. Fine then. Here we go.
Dot turned around. Kat was halfway across the parking lot, running toward her. She’d gotten her pin back. What else could she want?
Kat stopped about ten feet away, panting. “You found it!” She held the pin out in front of her. It shimmered in the moonlight. “Thank you.”
Dot waited for a but. Kat just watched her expectantly. Was that it?
“Uh. Sure, no problem.” Dot was hesitant. Her voice barely carried over the distance between them.
They stood briefly in silence. The air was still. Kat’s hand trembled slightly.
“It was a gift,” she said. “My nephew made it for me. It’s… it’s irreplaceable. I was really scared I’d lost it.”
Was Kat getting sentimental? Dot swallowed. She hadn’t seen this coming. She wasn’t sure what to say next.
Kat looked down at the pin and closed her fingers around it. “So, um… that’s all. I just wanted to say thanks, Mouse. Have a… a good night.” She backed away offering a little wave, then turned and started walking.
Dot felt she should say something. She remembered Lynn’s words from the day before. Give credit where it’s due.
Kat stopped and half-turned, looking back at Dot. “Yeah?”
“I… really like your photography. You’re really good.”
Kat’s mouth hung open for a second. “Uh—thanks,” she managed. “That… that means a lot, coming from you.
Coming from you? Was she being sincere? Dot couldn’t tell. They barely knew each other, so how could that…? Whatever. Dot had made an effort. This was a strange ending to a strange night, and she was ready for it to be over.
“Okay, I’m gonna get going.” She opened the front door of the van.
“Right. Of course. See you at scrim.”
“Yep.” Dot climbed into the driver’s seat and shut the door. As she turned the key, she glanced out the window. Kat was still standing there. When the engine started, she turned away again and headed for the rink doors.
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Bits and Bobs
- ISBN number: 9781733940207
- Publisher: Metal Heart Press
- Jacquelyn Heat Online
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