Roller derby has numerous enthusiastic followers and leagues around the world; so a novel based on the sport will draw from these groups as well as reaching into general-interest audiences. While the plot and characters of Roller Babes: 1950s Women of Roller Derby are based on real people and events, Patten takes the process a step further with a saga that adds fictional embellishments to real events and protagonists to heighten drama and explore the derby world.
Tim Patten is himself a former professional roller derby champion, so he's in the perfect position to craft a story that explores these early skaters and their achievements using more than a researcher's familiarity. His background lends insight, authenticity, and direction to the novel, which honors these early players by examining their lives and the social and sports conditions under which they played.
As Lottie and others feel their skills, passions, and interests alienate them from peers of both sexes ("The boys wanted Lottie out of their games for good. She felt her pulse in her throat. As the only girl, she had never fit in. Even among other girls, Lottie stood out from the crowd, and not in a good way: gawky, rough-and tumble, forever uncomfortable among the little ladies in their pretty dresses and beautifully curled hair. Lottie’s hair was choppy. She was an oddball."), they come to find in roller derby a new venture more accepting of who they are.
The alienation of 'tomboys' in sports in the 1950s is well documented through character experiences ("The stickball game officially broke up. Lottie’s teammates turned their attention elsewhere and once again, the girl who never felt like she fit in found herself alone, a cavity hollowed out inside her chest."), while roller marathons, the habit of staging accidental collisions between marathon couples in competition to up the ante and audience, and the evolution of American Roller Derby antics to supplement skating prowess provides a powerful account of the major figures of the sport and how entertainment and competition intersected to draw large audiences.
From skaters in professional and physical battles to the difference between showmanship and dangerous emotional confrontations, Patten delves into the darker side of roller derby as well as its evolutionary process and juxtaposes character motivations and experiences with insights on roller derby's appeal and rationales and the development of the contact sport.
The result is a powerful historical sports novel combining elements not usually gathered under a fictional cover to blend a thought-provoking survey of the history of women in derby with a very personal perspective of its pros, cons, and special challenges.
Roller derby evolved from early risk-takers and sports revolutionaries. There's no better way to learn about this history than through a lively, teeth-gritting read of close encounters on the skating track.