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. When she enters graduate school in St. Louis, she is determined to put the baggage of her childhood behind her. With no prior experience, she joins Arch Rival, one of the top-ranked roller derby leagues in the world. Gabe instantly falls in love with the sport’s roughness, intensity, and open embrace of people who are literally and figuratively scarred. She soon finds community and a sense of belonging, reveling in the tattoos, glitter, and campiness.
But when Gabe suffers a catastrophic injury, she can no longer ignore the parallels between the physicality of roller derby and the unresolved trauma of her upbringing. Rendered inactive, forced to be still, Gabe realizes she needs to heal her emotional wounds as much as her physical ones; she must confront her fear and self-diminishment in order to feel truly alive.
Told with unflinching honesty and a giant dose of wonder, Brace for Impact is a tender, inspiring memoir about the everyday heroism of pursuing a life less ordinary, and the deeply human need to be at peace with who you are.
I surprised myself by thoroughly enjoying this memoir, despite being a sixty-something, straight woman who knew absolutely nothing about roller derby (although my nephew’s wife plays – and boy do I now have a whole new respect for her).
A great memoir always compels me to Google the author to find out more about them. I did it after finishing Tara Westover’s Educated and Jeannette Walls’ Glass Castles. Brace for Impact certainly inspired me to find out more about Gabe Montesanti. While I wouldn’t put Brace for Impact into quite the same category as those brilliant reads, it was nonetheless a fascinating, gripping memoir that I found very hard to put down. I devoured it.
Gabe Montesanti is a queer Midwestern roller derby player who now lives with her wife in Texas. Brace for Impact is her story. Despite only covering her years until early adulthood, it’s nevertheless a sweeping tale about coming of age, dysfunctional families, the LGBTQ community, friendship, sisterhood and otherness. It’s about obsession with body shape. It’s about reinventing oneself, and acceptance. And it’s about the crazy, fascinating world of roller derby.
We learn about Gabe’s difficult relationship with her over-critical mother and her incredible passion for roller derby. Gabe finally finds her people when she joins this world. It’s here she discovers “true friendship, healthy athleticism, accepting community and proud queerness.”
I so admire her sheer determination to learn and excel at her chosen sport so that she could play for one of the best teams in the world. She literally throws her all into this and by doing so, meets some wonderful, caring people who are a complete foil for her hopeless family.
I love books that open my eyes to other ways of being. This one did just that. It is also beautifully written. Well worth a read! It will be published in May 2022.
You can pre-order here (Amazon.com)
About the author:
Gabe Montesanti is a queer, Midwestern roller derby player. She earned her BA in mathematics and studio art from Kalamazoo College and her MFA in Creative Nonfiction from Washington University in St. Louis. She serves as a mentor for the PEN Prison Writing Program, teaches creative writing at the University of North Texas, and has had work published in Belt Magazine, Brevity, The Offing, and Boulevard Magazine. Her piece, “The Worldwide Roller Derby Convention” was recognized as a notable essay in The Best American Essays 2020. Her roller derby memoir, Brace for Impact, is forthcoming from The Dial Press on May 24, 2022.