Goodreads: Skating Shoes
Series: Shoes #7
When Harriet Johnson’s doctor prescribes ice skating as a way to strengthen her feeble legs after a long illness, Harriet is terrified. She has never skated before and cannot imagine the grace and skill it takes to be one of those girls she has seen on the posters. At the rink, however, she meets Lalla Moore–a young girl destined (according to her aunt) to become a figure skating world champion. Lalla helps Harriet conquer the ice, but as her interest in figure skating wanes Harriet’s grows, Lalla becomes jealous of her new friend’s skill. Will figure skating tear the girls apart?
Noel Streatfeild is known for her children’s books in which the young protagonists often follow professional careers on the stage or in film or, in this case, even on the ice. Despite the somewhat glamorous settings, however, her stories really focus not so much on the theatre or even the training, but on relationships. Ballet Shoes, of course, is held together by the vow the Fossils sisters make to put their name in the history books and the most interesting parts are not the roles the girls get to play but the way in which they handle those roles. Skating Shoes follows in that tradition by focusing on the friendship between Harriet Johnson and Lalla Moore and in the ways their friendship influences their futures.
I instantly found Lalla Moore a particularly interesting character for a Streatfeild work. Since her books typically address the same topics, Streatfeild plays a lot with the same themes. For example, it seems impossible for her not to mention in some form the way in which performing for an audience can go to a young girl’s head. (Since Streatfeild had real-life experience with the theatre, I can only assume that she saw this a lot and maybe even thought a work that did not mention it could not be accurate.) Sometimes the audience learns only in passing that a girl became a bit of a “little madam”, as with Sorrel in Theater Shoes. In Skating Shoes, however, Lalla is puffed up with an enlarged sense of self-importance for essentially the entire book. And yet Streatfeild still manages to make her a sympathetic character.
Lalla’s aunt Claudia, of course, has raised the girl to think herself something special. Her aunt desperately wants Lalla to earn the title of world champion because she misses the prestige of being related to someone famous (Lalla’s father, before his death, held that title). To achieve that end, her aunt impresses upon everyone that to be allowed to associate with Lalla is a privilege. Harriet only gains access to Lalla at all because Lalla’s teachers and nanny, concerned that she has no friends, manage to convince Aunt Claudia that Harriet will spur Lalla on to greater efforts in her studies and in her training. In that sense, Harriet is but a tool to Aunt Claudia, and one that can be easily discarded. And though Lalla desperately wants a real friend, her aunt’s influence over the years almost cannot but have helped to spoil her. Even on her nicest days, Lalla, Streatfeild reminds us, has a tendency to order Harriet to serve her. As Harriet grows more proficient in skating, Lalla only becomes more demanding and jealous.
Typically one would not feel sorry at all for a girl who acts like Lalla. She’s rather like that stereotypical mean girl, like Lavinia in A Little Princess. If you met her in real life, you might not choose, like Harriet, to befriend her at all. But when Streatfeild depicts her lonely life, the way she sees no one but her tutors and her trainers, the way she only has a few hours a day to herself and nothing at all to do with them since she can only think of skating, Lalla becomes pitiful. It’s quite clear from the beginning that Lalla does not even really care about skating, but she has been brought up to believe that nothing else in life matters and she cannot leave because she literally would have no idea what else to do with herself.
Of course, Harriet is ostensibly in this story as well, but Streatfeild’s formula means that the girl with the most talent usually has the least time to shine, instead being revealed as a budding genius at the end of the book. Thus, though the story opens with Harriet, seemingly signalling her as the “main” protagonist, once she meets Lalla, her actions and emotions are increasingly set aside. Only at the climax do we realize that she has quietly practiced all her moves and is preparing to take her tests. And only then does Lalla’s fury allow Harriet a chance to react and thereby reassert herself as more than a secondary player in this tale.
I have always found it a shame that Streatfeild does not allow her audience more time with certain characters. Harriet may have a quiet temperament, but it seems unfair that that should mean even an author would start to overlook her. I would have loved to follow her struggles and triumphs in learning ice skating all by herself. I would have loved to know what she was thinking all those times Lalla bullied her and all the times Aunt Claudia treated her like the scum of the earth. Harriet just seems so interesting, yet we know so little about her.
And that is really my only complaint with this book–we do not get to follow the blossoming Harriet. Lalla is a very sympathetic character and one whose struggles I also wanted to share. But it is a book about friendship, after all. Could we not see the relationship from both sides?