Roller Derby Rivals
by Sue Macy, illustrated by Matt Collins
Holiday House, 2014
I love a book that looks at yesterday and makes me think hard about today. This is one of those books, a rowdy, rock-em-sock-em snapshot of a bygone rivalry that positively hums with contemporary resonance. Macy and Collins set their sights on the roller derby, in its day a hugely popular sport built of speed and spectacle, profiling two incandescent women and their fierce, secretly friendly competition. Gerry Murray is beauty, Midge “Toughie” Brasuhn is brawn, and their fabricated opposition reflected the shifting cultural conventions of post WWII America. Their battle unfolded on television, indeed roller derby itself gets some credit for helping to cement the medium’s popularity, and the orchestration of the conflict makes for an eerie predictor of what we now call reality television. Unlike so much of that contemporary entertainment, however, this was a valiant fight between worthy opponents (despite contrivances to the contrary) and the book follows suit, offering up an account built on respect and honor. Diamonds are our cards of strength, and there is so much of it expressed here, from the physical strength necessary to perform feats of derring-do (while whizzing around a track) to the more spiritual fortitude required to bypass cultural expectation and chart a different course. These were some strong women, and strength like that is just as admirable, and just as crucial, today as it ever was.
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