Cover Image: Brace for Impact

Brace for Impact

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Member Reviews

I was drawn to this title because I used to play roller derby, and I'm also a big fan of memoirs as well as LGBTQ lit. While I related to some of Monesanti's story, I had trouble staying engaged - I didn't end up finishing this. I do think this unique story has appeal and while the writing is decent, it just didn't speak to me enough to keep me invested.
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I really enjoyed this book! I thought it was very well-written and especially insightful into the tricky dynamics of mother-daughter relationships. I originally was drawn to this book because I've always been interested in roller derby, but other than seeing a match as a kid and watching Whip It (which is mentioned by the author as her introduction to the sport as well) I really didn't know much. But I was blown away by the amazing community Montesanti so lovingly writes about in this book. It makes me want to join!

Juxtaposing the discovery of this incredible sport and community is Montesanti's relationship with her mother and her challenges with body image. I thought these topics were explored on the page so well. We get to see so many heartbreaking moments between Gabe and her mother, but the growth and realization that comes from that. This journey was beautifully written. It's a story about derby and about being gay and about overcoming trauma. And it ends on such a hopeful note (the last two chapters are fantastic) with the realization that this story is also about learning how to love yourself and all the hard work that takes.

I did feel there were some areas that dragged. Interesting thoughts about the overall themes in this book were explored multiple times, with some instances feeling like a fresh perspective on the topic and others just feeling a bit repetitive. I do think this book is a little long for the genre and subject, but that comes down to my personal preferences.

Overall, I did like this book a lot. It made me want to learn even more about derby, which I think is such a cool sport. Thank you to The Dial Press for providing me with an ARC!
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From the opening pages of Gabe Montesanti's "Brace for Impact: A Memoir," it's apparent that the roller derby curious, self-identifying queer doesn't quite feel comfortable in her skin.

Of course, this could very well have a myriad of explanations.

It could be growing up in a conservative home in the conservative Midwest where she seemed to identify fairly early on that she was different from others including those within her own home.

It could be her exhaustingly tense relationship with a mother who carried a facade of loving warmth but whose obvious emotional abuse manifested in very tangible ways.

It could be her lingering issues with an eating disorder and warped body image resulting from all of the above and Montesanti's history of competitive swimming that developed into cyclical unhealthy patterns.

It could and probably is all of these things, though in the opening pages of "Brace for Impact" all these things are palpable as we're introduced to a young woman we grow to care as she tiptoes in these opening pages toward an exploration of the world of St. Louis's roller derby scene and begins to come face-to-face with a past that runs smack dab with the present life Montesanti is building for herself as she enters graduate school in St. Louis alongside her partner, Kelly.

"Brace for Impact: A Memoir" is, at its abundant heart, a book about how Montesanti transformed her life when she boldly and bravely entered Catalan Street's St. Louis Skatium, a bit of a ramshackle skate rink where Montesanti will not only be introduced the women who will become her friends and family of choice but she will ultimately be introduced to herself.

There are those who may very well argue that not enough unfolds in "Brace for Impact" to justify its lengthy journey.

The book does, in fact, largely unfold as Montesanti builds a reputation for discipline and commitment as a roller derby rookie before Montesanti is forced to slow down when a catastrophic injury threatens to have lifelong impact and she's truly forced to realize that this life she's building is unquestionably being influenced by her past.

However, what makes "Brace for Impact" refreshingly different is the complete and utter sincerity with which Montesanti. This isn't maudlin literary manipulation. This is emotional transparency that feels vibrantly alive and infuses "Brace for Impact" with a sense of honesty and even urgency that immerses us in her life, in Kelly's life, and in the lives of those around her including her beloved "derby mom."

I mean, seriously, I absolutely adored this derby mom.

As Montesanti shares detail after detail, you feel her world coming to life within her mind as she writes and remembers, heals and restores. While it's somewhat cliche' to say that a book begs to be a film, "Brace for Impact" is a biopic waiting to happen.

It's rare in a memoir that a world comes to life as vividly as it does here. So many biopics are content to bring the central character to life. After all, it is a memoir. However, if there's one thing we learn from "Brace for Impact" and it is obvious that Montesanti has learned in life it's that we're better off not alone and it's clear she absolutely loves this world she built for herself and that empowered her in a myriad of ways.

"Brace for Impact" is bold. It's raw. It's vulnerable. It's aching. It's also got a myriad of tenderness to it as Montesanti learns to embrace herself and to surrender to those who embrace her.

"Brace for Impact" covers the familial conflicts and tensions with unflinching honesty, a quietly understated longing for normalcy never quite met yet there's never quite the adversarial tone that so many books adopt. Instead, and perhaps even more painfully, there's honesty about unhealthy family dynamics and the slow peeling away of relationship masks to reveal uncomfortable truths.

There's also, of course, Montesanti's relationship with Kelly, the kind of partner we all long to have with equal parts nurturer, advocate, protector, and guardian angel.

While we're obviously still early in 2022, there's little doubt that "Brace for Impact" will be one of my favorite reading experiences for the year. While I may not seem like the target audience for the book, as a disabled activist who grew up in an ultra-conservative home and who's experienced my own myriad of early life traumas this was a book that resonated with me deeply within my soul and which also made me absolutely adore these people and the world that Montesanti at first stumbles into before embracing it and protecting it.

"Brace for Impact" not only describes Montesanti's inspiring journey here - it describes the experience of reading this emotionally honest and exhilarating memoir from first-time author Gabe Montesanti.
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Growing up queer in a conservative Midwestern town, Gabe Montesanti never felt comfortable in her own skin. A competitive swimmer, she turned to perfectionism and self-control to create a sense of safety, only to develop an eating disorder and constantly second-guess her instincts. 

This book was hard to read. Not because it was not a good book because it was such an awesome story. It was hard because you can genuinely feel the author's story in your bones. I wanted to hug the book so tightly  once I was finished but alas it was an e-copy!
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Brace for Impact is nothing short of stunning. A highly recommended first purchase, particularly for collections where memoirs are already popular.
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Brace for Impact is a very powerful memoir about the author's life and many different experiences they go through. This is a very raw novel about her journey and just feels very real. She writes about her queerness and how that affected her life as a derby player. This is such a great read that deals with many brutal topics in a great way.
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In Brace for Impact, Gabe Montesanti shares with us the slow, sometimes excruciating process of extricating herself from the toxic influence of her mother and finding joy in the fellowship of shared queer spaces. It celebrates found family, the strength and resilience of one's body, and the uneven, uneasy navigation from childhood to adulthood. Through this journey, Montesanti discovers what her body and mind are truly capable of, learns how to develop and nurture healthy, fortifying relationships, and, most importantly, learns to accept and see herself as a part of the great, big beautiful queer community—all thanks to the empowerment  and not-so-occasional roughness and violence of roller derby.

Montesanti provides the backstory of the relationship with her mother and the dynamic of her family life, weaving anecdotes as a competitive swimmer around her real-time experience of finding roller derby as an adult. At first she is tentative, allowing her past, her mother's powerful "you can't/shouldn't/won't be able to do this" voice to forever be a presence in her head. As she grapples with her partner Kelly not being able to find a job when they make the move to St. Louis, the pressures of her graduate writing program, and both craving and fearing acceptance into a queer space, Montesanti finds herself drawn to the world of roller derby—of unconventional women, of incredibly clever alter ego derby names (that, quite frankly, may be my favorite part of roller derby—well, that and all the hot pants), of a world where the old rules of what her body can and can't do don't apply and where being out and proud is the rule instead of the exception. It was beautiful to see her begin to see herself as a part of this space, as not just capable, but also deserving of having the kind of community that accepts and embraces her—all of her. 

As for the writing style itself, I did feel that the book would be better off being a bit shorter, and at many points she was simply telling, not showing. (Part of this is having to describe the actions of a sport, and there is a lot going on in a roller derby bout, as I came to find out.) I know that this is the trick of a good memoir—to be able to tell and show simultaneously about events that are in some cases far removed from memory, repressed even. To recreate these in a genuine way that continues the momentum of the story is immensely challenging, and the writing needs to be incredibly nuanced to tread this line successfully. She picks up a lot of momentum towards the end of the book, and I was unsurprised when I learned that the book stemmed out of a series of essays that had been previously published. I think she is probably an excellent essayist who is still finding her voice as a memoirist. 

Overall, I enjoyed Montesanti's story. I think any story that celebrates queer spaces, that allows for people to feel more accepting of themselves. that chronicles the process of them healing and realizing how they deserve a space in the greater LGBTQ+ community, is a story worth reading, a story worth telling. I was, quite frankly, shocked at some of her mother's behavior, and hearing the way her mother spoke to her, the negative and intrusive thoughts she was responsible for implanting in Montesanti's head, made me both furious and sad. This book is for anyone struggling to squirm out from under the thumbprint of a toxic relationship, anyone who is learning to find power in their own body, and anyone who likes to read about the toughness, resilience, and power of a group of women who find pleasure in hurtling themselves into each other.
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I could not put this incredible memoir down! The author gets raw and honest about her journey as a competitive swimmer, to coming out and living with her first girlfriend, grad school, coping with an abusive parent, while learning to play roller derby. That may sound like a lot, but the author weaves them all together beautifully. This is one of the best books I’ve read all year! 

I always assumed that competitive athletes felt strong and confident about their skills. The author, though a decorated swimmer, never felt this way. Despite outward success, she struggled with an eating disorder and being unable to stand up to an abusive mother. Through roller derby, she learns a new way to be as an athlete. The author describes the sense of community and body positivity she experiences as a roller derby player.

The author delves into queer life in derby—where she comes to feel accepted as a lesbian. She also explores her increasingly serious relationship with her cohabitating girlfriend. 

You won’t regret digging into this powerful coming of age story. Love love loved this book!
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I played roller derby for a bit, and what I noticed first about Gabe Montesanti's memoir is that her roller derby journey is a common experience for many people who have played the sport - in the sport they found connection, passion, community, acceptance, and family. I'm glad that she was able to put the experience into words so clearly so others can experience it. Interweaving her family's story into her roller derby journey is what makes this memoir shine.
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Uncomfortably well written coming of age story.

A different take on overcoming adversity - eating disorders, the struggle to fit in, coming to terms with sexuality and oh yeah, a sports passion not truly mainstream enough to help win acceptance from the gay community or academic community.

Not for the faint of heart.
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Should twenty somethings be allowed to write memoirs?! If your Gabe Montesanti the answer is absolutely!! This book is the author’s recollection of growing up in a rough family. Growing up gay and having no role models or mentors, and very little support. She moved to St. Louis, Missouri for graduate school with her girlfriend who had also recently graduated college. It was a new start for both women. The author then sees an advertisement for Roller Derby tryouts and it becomes a calling, a passion, a chosen family. 

The team and community aspects of the sport sound great. The brutality of the sport, not so much. At my current age (44) absolutely nothing could induce me to inflict that much pain on myself. 

I related to so much in this book. The author is open and genuine. There is much to appreciate here with her honesty and insight. 

Thanks to @netgalley and @randomhouse for an advanced copy of this book. It will be released 5/24/22.
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Brace for Impact focuses one of the most exciting and scary times in a budding academic's life.

After finishing her undergrad degree, she moved to a new city with her partner to complete a graduate program. This journey is difficult for just about anyone in a similar situation, but Montesanti shares details of her life that are absolutely heartbreaking. These details are hers to share, but I will give a trigger warning that this will be a difficult read for anyone sensitive to conversations around eating disorders, body image, or a fraught family dynamic.

In this chapter of her life, Montesanti is struggling to figure out how to navigate her relationship with her mother. The two are polar opposites in many ways, and despite her mother's rejection, Montesanti yearns to rebuild their relationship and find a new equilibrium between them.

The main focus of the novel -- and where Montesanti's voice really shines -- is her budding romance with the brash, accepting, courageous sport of roller derby. She cautiously tiptoes into this world looking for a replacement for her childhood focus on swimming and a place to channel her energy and emotions during her rigorous graduate program in a brand new city. Almost immediately, Montesanti finds this and more: she finds community.

The way Montesanti weaves her experiences as a new roller derby hopeful with her residual childhood trauma as a means of shaping her new life is absolutely wonderful. I found myself absolutely enthralled in her story. I found myself rooting for her. I found myself feeling like I knew her. Despite this rather heavy content, Brace for Impact remains a very fun read.

Now, the question remains as to whether I'll lace up a pair of roller skates...

Thanks to the publisher and NetGalley for an ARC of this text.
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Brace For Impact is a memoir centered on Gabe Montesanti's entrance into the Roller Derby world and her journey from beginner to becoming a solid part of her world-class league. It is an intriguing and fascinating look into a sport that has a culture unique from any other.

This alone makes it a great read yet, it offers so much more. We are given the privilege of coming along Montesanti's deep dive into building a life beyond the confines of her past and her courageous, frank look at the experiences that shaped her. We get to root first-hand for her to succeed not only in roller derby but life itself.

My life is nothing like Montesanti's and I was not expecting to relate so much to her experiences. But I did. What in my life is similar to roller derby? Not a thing but Montesanti manages to so neatly tie in deeper insights and growth beyond her roller derby experiences, I find myself feeling like her journey echoes my own.

A deceptively simple roller derby memoir on the face of it hides the deeply personal, raw story of a woman fighting her demons and fearless steps into finding a community in which she is loved for who she is. I will likely read this book again.
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I was drawn right into this memoir,.The world of roller derby is one I really knew nothing about but found interesting.A society that was a world onto  itself.The author shares her participation in this unique sport.The people who play their interactions and the people around them are a very interesting fringe community.#netgalley #randomhouse
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Gabe's story is about her induction and assimilation into the  world of roller derby. But it is also about her coming to terms with her sexuality, her relationship with her girlfriend and her family, and her bulimia.  She moves to St. Louis and finds the community she feels right in,  and who embrace her, in the world of roller derby. But when she suffers a devastating accident and is immobile for months, she faces the family who has never accepted her and the eating disorder that has plagued her.

She wonders if the friends she met through the derby are only there when she is able to be an active participant; she wonders if she can reconcile her troubled relationship with her mother. All of this comes to a head during the latter portion of the book.
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Roller derby and queer people? I am IN. Based on the description of BRACE FOR IMPACT, I could not wait to read it and was thrilled when I received the approval. Gabe Montesanti paints a very vivid picture of the roller derby world and the people in it. I also appreciated the sly mentioned of the movie "Whip It" and how the rules have changed. These mentions fit the tone of BRACE FOR IMPACT while also educating this reader that I couldn't make assumptions about roller derby based on a movie I had scene. 

Montesanti tackles thorny, painful subjects, especially those around body image/shaming, homophobia, and abuse. Combining these issues with a vibrant, scene-stealing culture like the skaters she met is a tough combination. Unfortunately, it fell short. The storytelling and writing ability is definitely there. Montesanti can really bring a reader into a scene. The book's structure is what failed her. The interweaving of parental memories with the new(er) roller derby events dulled story momentum and made it difficult to keep track of any timeline. One of the most forced examples is when Montesanti is borrowing a dress and sees the person's pet fish, which then triggers a memory about pet fish and her mother. Even if this is how the memory was triggered, on the page it felt forced and manufactured. 

Overall, the book's lack of a narrative question (or questions) hurt it the most. I didn't know why I was reading this story: What had the author learned from these experiences? Why was she sharing this story? What was she trying to figure out/solve by writing this and how was I, as a reader, being brought on the journey? This read more as I was supposed to find it interesting because of the combo of a queer person overcoming homophobia and finding family through roller derby. That is interesting, but why Montesanti's story and why now?
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This book had me gripped right from the start. It’s an interesting introduction to the derby fringe community, which I had absolutely no prior knowledge of, but found so fascinating. The author is a wonderful narrator, sharing her vulnerabilities and the coming of age confrontations between her mother’s control and her emerging identity.
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This is a brutal book - physically and emotionally - and it’s done very well. The author, Gabe Montesanti, has written a memoir about an important time in her life. A member of the LGBTQ community, at the time the book takes place, Gabe and her partner, Kelly, have recently moved to St. Louis, where Gabe is starting a master’s program in writing at Washington University (my alma mater). 

Growing up, Gabe felt she never fit in anywhere. - not in school, not in her family - and the only way that she found to prove herself to herself was through competitive swimming, in which she participated throughout college. Now, in a new city where neither she nor Kelly know anyone, where Kelly has no job, and they barely subsist on Gabe’s scholarship stipend, she’s desperate to find something to belong to. And then she discovers roller derby, a sport quite possibly more brutal than football and ice hockey combined. 

Gabe is a driven person, and her drive to succeed in roller derby gives her life some meaning. She and Kelly (who doesn’t skate but comes to events) find an unusual family and not only camaraderie but love and support. This becomes especially important when Gabe has a serious accident on the rink. 

Throughout the book, Gabe reflects upon her need to be accepted and the extent of her anguish about being unloved and not good enough, born in childhood and persisting in her young adulthood is terribly painful. I found myself making notes like “please get therapy” although in the end she seems to figure out who she is and just how worthy she is as well. 

This book is an exceptional insight into a sport that I didn’t know much about as well as an excellent insight into the LGBTQ community. Highly recommended. 

I received this book as an ARC from the publisher and NetGalley.
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Thank you to NetGalley and to the publisher for this ARC in exchange for an honest review copy.

Brace for Impact was an incredibly cool and unique memoir that delves into the intriguing and badass culture of roller derby. I really enjoyed this!
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