The Adventures of a Girl Called Bicycle

Book review by
Jan Carr, Common Sense Media
The Adventures of a Girl Called Bicycle Book Poster Image
Girl bikes across the U.S. in quirky road trip adventure.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Map of the U.S. shows the route she bikes through: Virginia, Kentucky, Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, Colorado, Utah, Nevada, California. Topography of the various states. Info about how to read maps. Manassas, Virginia is the site of a Civil War battle. Kansas is called "The Sunflower State." Utah's called "The Beehive State." Intro to Kentucky Derby, Yosemite, Tour de France, and The Running of the Bulls in Pamplona. Some info on bicycles parts and mechanics. Info on racing, for instance riding in a paceline. Numerous examples of anagrams.

Positive Messages

When you need support, good people will help you. It's best to think of the kind people you meet and the luck you've had, and forget about the rotten people. "Luck flows around us like a river, but we have our own paddles." Sometimes what seems to be bad luck turns out to be good.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Bicycle's a determined, resourceful young female who knows what she wants, figures out how to get it, and overcomes challenges along the way. She's athletic. She's smart, clever, handy, and self-reliant, fixing her own bike and mapping her own route. She's respectful of her guardians, but clearly articulates her own needs when they conflict. Sister Wanda loves and cares for her, and though sometimes she's overly strict, ultimately she listens to Bicycle and supports her. Numerous people help and generously feed Bicycle on her trip.

Violence & Scariness
Language

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Adventures of a Girl Called Bicycle by debut novelist Christina Uss features a spunky 12-year-old girl protagonist named Bicycle who takes a cross-country trip by herself on her bike. Some story elements are exaggerated and fantastic for wacky effect. For instance, Bicycle was raised in the Mostly Silent Monastery where the monks can only speak a list of "Sacred Eight Words," one of which is "sandwich." And a Civil War ghost she meets while riding through Virginia ends up coming along for the ride. The theme of friendship is threaded throughout as Bicycle meets a string of quirky characters along the way.

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What's the story?

In THE ADVENTURES OF A GIRL CALLED BICYCLE, a toddler is found in the Mostly Silent Monastery in Washington, D.C., where she’s named "Bicycle" for the T-shirt she's wearing, and raised by Sister Wanda, who homeschools her. Bicycle grows up to love her bike, called Clunk, but Sister Wanda worries that she doesn't have friends, so when Bicycle turns 12, the nun decides to send her to a camp called The Friendship Factory that advertises "Three Guaranteed Friendships or Your Money Back." But Bicycle has another plan. She wants to befriend Zbig Sienkieweicz, an international cycling star who's making an appearance at the Blessing of the Bicycles in San Francisco. So she hops on her bike and crosses the country on her own, meeting challenges, setbacks, and a slew of oddball characters along the way. Will Bicycle make it? Will she meet Zbig? Will he agree to be her friend?

Is it any good?

This offbeat road-trip story, in which a 12-year-old girl bikes solo cross-country, is enlivened by the eccentric characters she meets along the way, as well as the majesty of the U.S. landscape. The Adventures of a Girl Called Bicycle draws on author Christina Uss' own experience with long-distance bike trips, and the story's infused with her love of cycling, sweetening the ride.

Uss has a broad, breezy, folksy style, exaggerating for comic effect. For instance, Bicycle meets French Chef Marie, who's come to America to open a vast chain of locavore cafes that conveniently dot Bicycle's route, providing unending eats. And, in a town where there's an annual pig parade, she eats fried pies with fillings like kielbasa-'n'-mustard and peanut butter-and-sorghum. The characters and situations are often improbable, and some readers will love that and giggle along, while others might prefer to be grounded in a more realistic story. But all readers will root for Bicycle, an endearingly determined protagonist, and will have fun traveling with her from the Civil War battlefield sites of Virginia to the Bicycle Blessing ceremony in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the bike trip in The Adventures of a Girl Called Bicycle. Can you tell from the story that the author's a long-distance cyclist herself? How does the map of the trip itself help structure the story?

  • Why do you think the author chose to exaggerate the characters and events? Have you read other books that do this? Would you have fun writing a story in a broad style about quirky characters?

  • Which are your favorite characters? How do they reflect the part of the country they're from? How are they distinctly American? Do you think that even the French character, Chef Marie, feels American in some way?

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