VERDICT: Treasure, kinda sorta
Laurinda’s Rating: 3/5
Rollerskates, the 1937 Newbery Medal Winner, is the story of Lucinda, a roller skating fanatic. She declares herself an “orphan” when her parents go abroad without her. Lucinda blossoms with the new freedom she has. Skating around the city, she makes friends with everyone around her, including an Irish cab driver, an Italian fruit stand owner, the candy maker, and a rag seller, among others.
Lucinda’s relationships are the star of the book. She is amazing at taking genuine interest in everything going on around her and getting other people involved. When bullies repeatedly loot Tony’s fruit stand, Lucinda talks to a policeman she made friends with, who talks to his colleague assigned to that stretch. Together, they ensure that the bullies never return. Lucinda also cares deeply about a little girl living upstairs, Trinket. She puts together a lovely Christmas for Trinket’s poor family and coaxes her to eat when sick. All of Lucinda’s friends are depicted as lovingly.
Unfortunately, the plot is much less well drawn than the characters. It lacks overall momentum, at times seeming almost random. For instance, about 2/3 of the way through, Lucinda finds one of her friends dead with a dagger in her back. She tells the hotel owner, who convinces her to let a maid find the body and makes Lucinda promise not to tell. Plot twist? Nope. Merely an isolated incident, after which life continues as normal. Trinket’s death affects the plot a bit more but is no means a major driver except in illustrating that Lucinda can indeed change because of negative experiences. The ending is similarly unsatisfying. Lucinda learns that her parents are coming home, broodingly says goodbye to the friends made during the year her parents were absent, and prepares to idolize her year of freedom. We are left with the impression that Lucinda considers this a negative change, but there is no follow-up on what actually happens when her parents get back. The author skated through the plot much as Lucinda did, rather aimlessly. There is no major growth and development of Lucinda, no culmination of the smaller experiences/lessons learned during her year of freedom. This void left me asking, “That’s it?” at the end of the book.
While the characters are entertaining, and the writing style fluid, the lack of plot made me vacillate over the rating and recommendation of this book. It’s a quick read, so if you’re interested in a swatch of New York society circa 1890, it might be worth a read. Even if not, Rollerskates provides some amusement. It won’t be at the top of my Newbery Medal Winner recommendations, but I don’t regret taking the time to read it.