Roller Skates, by Ruth Sawyer, was published in 1936 by Viking.
A year on roller skates! A whole year when Lucinda was free to stop and chat with Patrolman M’Gonegal, and make friends with old Rags-an’-Bottles the junkman, and even play with Tony, whose father kept a fruit stand down the street. That was Lucinda’s year in New York City in the 1890s, when her family went to Europe and left her—not, thank heaven, with Aunt Emily and her four docile, ladylike daughters, but with the Misses Peters, who understood that a girl of ten wanted to roller-skate to school, and who weren’t always worrying about a little lady’s social dignity!
Despite the fact that Roller Skates has the protagonist-type that I can’t stand (the breaks-propriety, too-wild-to-handle type), I actually enjoyed reading the book. I’m not fond of New York City as a place to live, but I really enjoy stories about old New York, the New York of the 1800s and early 1900s. Sawyer portrays both the glamourous bustle and the peaceful parks of the city, and also includes a small glimpse of a slightly seedier underbelly. Though it’s not focused on so much as to make it a prominent theme, there’s definitely class tension in the novel as well—Lucinda runs into many characters that function on different social levels than she, whether it be Tony at the fruit stand, Rags-an’-Bottles the junkman, her rich uncle, or the mysterious “princess.”
Though Lucinda is supposed to be ten, she sounds, especially in her journal entries, much more like fifteen, and I imagined her as such throughout—which made for sometimes quite jarring scenes when Sawyer reminded me that Lucinda was younger than how I imagined her. Perhaps it’s due to the time period and the culture gap, but Lucinda says and does a great many things that I can’t imagine a ten-year-old articulating or doing today.
The book is a little bit wild and all-over-the-place (much like Lucinda) in terms of pace and development. There’s a few odd events scattered throughout that I sort of blinked and shook my head at in confusion, such as what Lucinda discovered on her last visit to “Princess Zayda,” which was so unexpected and strange that I’m not sure why Sawyer felt the need to include it (unless it was to illustrate the seedy side of New York). I also shook my head a bit when Trinket got sick, because Sawyer was so vague and mysterious about her treatment that I’m not sure even Sawyer knew what illness Trinket had. It works because Lucinda is ten and knows nothing about medicine, but still, it was an odd scene to me.
I can’t say I loved Roller Skates, but I did enjoy most of it. I thought there were some odd scenes here and there, but there were some amusing moments and I do really like the setting. I just wish I had enjoyed the protagonist a little bit more. I found her voice older than her age, and I don’t like her character type at all. However, I suppose a nice little girl who follows the rules wouldn’t make for such an adventurous book.
Recommended Age Range: 8+
Genre: Children’s, Historical Fiction
“What’s your name?”
“Trinket,” said the little girl.
“Caroline Browdowski,” said the woman, “but she is our very own trinket. It’s a pet name.”
“Oh! I never had a pet name. I’m called Lucinda, and sometimes severely—Lucinda Wyman! And I never had curls, either.”
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