Tanya Boteju's YA novel Bruised explores the bold and beautiful world of roller derby
This interview originally aired on April 10, 2021.
Tanya Boteju is an author and educator based in Vancouver. Her debut YA novel, Kings, Queens and In-Betweens, followed a high school student named Nima and explored themes of gender identity and belonging. Her latest is Bruised, a YA novel about Daya Wijesinghe, a teen girl who navigates first love, identity and grief when she immerses herself in the colourful world of roller derby.
Bumps and bruises
"The elevator pitch for Bruised would be that it's about a young girl named Daya who has lost her parents in a car accident before the book begins. She has taken to bruising herself as a way to cope with her grief. When a friend introduces her to roller derby, she sees it as a great opportunity to gain more bruises. She discovers that it's a lot more than that, and she creates a new self out of that experience.
I've always been impressed with roller derby. When I was searching for a community that I was curious and wanted to learn more about, that popped into my brain.
"The inspiration for the book was me sitting down and trying to figure out what to write next. I was grounding my writing in communities that I find engaging, interesting, exciting, colourful.
"I've always been impressed with roller derby. When I was searching for a community that I was curious and wanted to learn more about, that popped into my brain. That became the impetus behind the story, because then I started thinking about who would be attracted to this brutal sport, and why."
"My main character, Daya, is different from me and from my earlier protagonist in my first book, Kings, Queens and In-Betweens. She's not as naive. She is insecure in her own way, but puts on this sort of facade of toughness. Daya has become someone who thinks of toughness as strength and brutality — a sort of physical toughness.
"I had to spend a lot of time getting to know her to figure out where this sense of toughness comes from. We get flashbacks throughout the novel about her relationship with her parents — who are immigrants from Sri Lanka, like my own — and their influence on her, both the negative as well as the positive.
Daya has become someone who thinks of toughness as strength and brutality — a sort of physical toughness.
"They're snapshots to give us a sense of how that immigrant experience is reflected in their parenting, as well as how she sees them throughout her life and is perhaps mistaken about who they are and what they've had to offer her.
"That relationship actually became really, really important through the process of writing the book."
Tanya Boteju's comments have been edited for length and clarity.