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Review: The White Bicycle
Unfortunately, Taylor Jane’s mother has tagged along. It only makes sense; Penny Simon’s mother just passed away, leaving some money, so why not spend it on traveling? All the better because Penny is dating Alan Phoenix, father to Luke Phoenix and Martin Phoenix.
A summer job in France is something anyone would want! For Taylor Jane, though, it means even more. It means the chance to add something to her resume, to make more money than she would in her part time job at the bookstore, to possibly get a better job, which means independence.
Independence is what any 19 year old wants, right? And isn’t her mother’s coming along on Taylor Jane’s trip evidence enough that her mother is too involved?
The White Bicycle is the third and final book about Taylor Jane Simon, a young woman with Asperger’s Syndrome.
The Good: First things first: while The White Bicycle is part of a trilogy, you do not have to read the other two books in order to read and enjoy and understand this book. The proof of that statement is that I have never read the other two books, and I simply adored The White Bicycle.
As I’ve said in the past, much as I like reading a book before it gets an Award nod, I also like being able to read something new after it has that recognition. Here, to be able to read The White Bicycle asking “why a Printz Honor.” I suspected, going in, that part of it would be because the narrator, Taylor Jane, has Asperger’s Syndrome and that her way of telling the story would be unique and fresh. I was right; but Taylor Jane’s voice was so much more than that. It was funny; it was insightful; it revealed a different way of looking at the world; and it was full of yearning.
Here, from the first few pages. Taylor Jane has just recounted a dream about going someplace on a white bicycle, and it’s pretty symbolic of independence and life. She muses, “I do not know whether this is really a dream or a nightmare. My mother would say it is a nightmare because it has unhappy parts in it; but so does life, and life is closer to dreams than nightmares.”
Taylor Jane explain what being an adult is and is not: “I used to be waiting for boyfriends but now I know that I don’t need a boyfriend to be an adult. Then I waited for a job, but now I now that just having a job doesn’t make you independent.” This, then, is the second great thing about The White Bicycle: exploring what it means to be an adult and to be independent, and doing so without it being tied to a “thing” such as dating or a job or even knowing what one wants to do with the rest of one’s life.
The third thing that made me sit up and go, “yes,” was the way the story was told. You all may realize by now I love when stories aren’t linear in fashion. Taylor Jane is writing this all down, and yes, it’s about her summer in France, but she also shares various memories of her childhood. Several of them are from the time before she received a diagnosis of Asperger’s Syndrome; which means it includes the years at school when Taylor Jane was seen by teachers as stupid or spoiled or a trouble maker. It’s insightful, to see her point of view for what caused meltdowns or other instances. It was also heartbreaking, because I recognized what her mother had to be going through in those years without an answer and only blame. Even if Taylor Jane doesn’t realize it, it’s easy for the reader to see just why her mother is now over protective. It’s also to see that her mother is not without reasons to still be involved in her daughter’s life. The trip to France has multiple plane changes and a few issues (missed connection, lost luggage) and I’m honestly not sure how Taylor Jane would have navigated them alone.
A final reason to love The White Bicycle: it shows how a mother’s over involvement can damage a relationship. Taylor Jane grows increasingly resentful over her mother telling her what to do and not do. At the same time, she misses the things she and her mother used to do together for fun, such as watching movies.
Oh, I said a final but there are many more reasons — such as the Phoenix family and their love, understanding, and acceptance of Taylor Jane. The setting of the south of France, and I want to go to there right this minute! The instances were people other than Taylor Jane are shown to have trouble with change: her mother’s concerns about driving in France, Luke Phoenix and his place in the family. So, yes, a Favorite Book Read in 2013. Thank you, Printz Committee!
About Elizabeth Burns
Looking for a place to talk about young adult books? Pull up a chair, have a cup of tea, and let's chat. I am a New Jersey librarian. My opinions do not reflect those of my employer, SLJ, YALSA, or anyone else. On Twitter I'm @LizB; my email is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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