"The Adventures of a Girl Called Bicycle" - An Adorable Read
The Adventures of a Girl Called Bicycle. I liked the title immediately. But it also sent a jolt of terror through me, one that every aspiring author can relate to. The irrational and impossible fear of, "did someone already write my book?"
Recommended to me by Charlotte Glover of Parnassus Books in my hometown of Ketchikan, Alaska, I bravely cracked it open, read the whole thing, and I loved it. Author Christina Uss definitely didn't write my book. This novel is as different from my manuscript as a story can be, and still be about a girl riding her bike alone across the country. My main takeaway was: it's adorable!
"I know what you're thinking: 'adorable' isn't a respectful word for someone's literary masterpiece... But in the same breath, it's a kid's novel. Adorable is part of the appeal."
I know what you're thinking: "adorable" isn't a respectful word for someone's literary masterpiece. You can't call another writer's work "adorable" and expect to forge a lasting friendship with them. I get it. But in the same breath, it's a kid's novel. Adorable is part of the appeal. And author Christina Uss may well agree with me.
The Adventures of a Girl Called Bicycle has an intriguing premise: a pre-teen orphan who runs away from the monastery where she grew up in order to pursue the one thing she isn't good at: making friends. She rides a bicycle across the United States from east to west, befriending a ghost, a French chef, a champion race horse, and a lovable bunch of other eccentric folks along the way. I won't spoil the ending for you, but I will say this: by the last page, it's all tied up neat as a pin, and everyone gets what they wanted. Cute, right?
I found myself flipping to the first few pages over and over, to that little section where the publisher and ISBN number are listed. The genre just said "Fiction." It wasn't until I did some research online that I confirmed my hopes and prayers were true: this novel is categorized as young adult fiction. Thank goodness! Because this book, while full of adventure, is utterly tame. Nowhere in the entire text is there a swear word, or flutter of pre-pubescent hormones, or a single "adult" topic. Nothing scary happens, besides the main character being briefly chased by a pack of dogs in Missouri. The Harry Potter series reads like 50 Shades of Grey by comparison.
As it turns out, this is the author's goal. As Christina Uss explains on her website:
"My kids' favorite middle-grade books right now (and my faves as a kid) are ones where nobody dies during the story - 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.
We're a pretty sensitive bunch and often not looking to books to have our hearts broken and mended back together; instead, when we pick up a book to read as a family, we're looking to laugh and wonder about the world."
- Christina Uss, author of The Adventures of a Girl Called Bicycle
Ah. It's all making sense now. It's not that Christina doesn't understand the trials and challenges of a solo bike tour (she's a cyclist herself, and has ridden across the United States twice), it's just that she wanted to make the story digestible and fun for her sensitive children. That's awesome. That's the power of storytelling.
To this day, I LOVE children's books. And I truly love this one that Christina Uss has brought to the marketplace: there's magic, talking bicycles, adventure, and a world where a young girl can ride her bike safely across the United States, alone, and no one sends the cops after her.
Even as an adult in a kid's world, I had a rollicking good time.