Cover of 'The Adventures of a Girl Called Bicycle' by Christina Uss
Hot on the wheels of Bike Everywhere Month in May, a new middle-grade novel out today offers a charming and quirky mix of adventure, friendship, perseverance and pluck — on a bike.
"The Adventures of a Girl Called Bicycle," by Christina Uss, follows a 12-year-old girl (named Bicycle) whose guardian says she's too solitary and must learn to make friends. So off to the Friendship Factory summer camp she must go. Only Bicycle has no intention of being cooped up at camp with kids who can't make friends, so she skips town on her trusty bike Clunk. Her plan? To ride Clunk across the U.S. and meet her idol, a Polish bike racer who will be visiting California.
Along the miles Bicycle pedals, she and Clunk meet many endearing characters, including a friendly ghost named Griffin, a French chef and the (real-life) Cookie Lady. Unexpected encounters — and kindnesses — keep Bicycle going, and a dose of good luck saves her trip when Clunk is run over by a herd of pigs. But can she stay a pedal-stroke ahead of the mysterious woman in black who seems to be following her? Will she make it to California in time to meet Zbig, the Polish bike racer? And will he be the friend she hopes he will?
"The Adventures of a Girl Called Bicycle" left me smiling or chuckling at nearly every page. I loved earnest Bicycle, the quirky characters she meets and all the hilarious, sometimes magical, details. But full disclosure: I know the author and biked with her on some real bicycle adventures, including a trip where we rode from Vancouver, Canada, to Tijuana, Mexico, back during pre-kid days that are only a hazy memory now.
For a more impartial opinion, I offered the book to my 9-year-old son whose reading preferences include the "Land of Stories" series and Harry Potter. Truth be told, I wasn't sure he'd latch on to a book with a girl as the main character. Silly me, he read all 300 pages in a couple of days, enchanted by the funny characters, such as a bicycle-loving horse called Cannibal, and laughing out loud as he tore through the pages.
This story of perseverance and doing things your own way will appeal to all kids beginning to exercise their burgeoning independence.
Uss' cycling credentials are legit. She's ridden across the U.S. east-to-west and north-to-south (with yours truly) and has worked as a bike tour guide. She is a mom of twins who now rides her bike around her hometown of East Longmeadow, Mass. She and her kids are self-professed sensitive types — and voracious readers — and they prefer books where nobody dies.
"Not a parent or a friend or a pet or a kindly neighbor or a sibling or a friend's sibling or the head of the wizarding school — no one," she writes on her website where she lists reading recommendations for her Nobody Dies Book Club. Rest assured that no one dies in "Bicycle."
"The Adventures of a Girl Called Bicycle" releases today and is published by Margaret Ferguson Books/Holiday House. Uss' second novel, "Colossus of Roads," is due out in 2020.
Inspired to take a (mini) adventure by bike?