Ever since Sister Wanda found her as a toddler, wearing only a "faded pink T-shirt decorated with a drawing of a bike and the word BICYCLE printed in block letters," Bicycle has been a permanent fixture at the Mostly Silent Monastery in Washington, D.C. Having grown up around monks who speak only the Sacred Eight Words--"yes," "no," "maybe," "help," "now," "later," "sleep" and "sandwich"--the now 12-year-old Bicycle would much rather ride her bike, Clunk, than make friends. And so, when Sister Wanda decides to send Bicycle to the Friendship Factory ("Three Guaranteed Friendships or Your Money Back"), Bicycle comes up with her own friendship plan: a cross-country cycling trip.
What starts out as a solitary journey turns into an extraordinary pilgrimage featuring several fantastical characters and an unforgettable adventure to boot. While these colorful people and their stories surely delight, the strength of Christina Uss's writing lies in her ability to meld multiple genres into one enjoyable, cohesive story. She easily weaves together mystery (a woman in black who's very curious about Bicycle's whereabouts), adventure (several calamitous events raise the stakes) and the supernatural (a chatty Civil War ghost with unfinished business), creating a memorable middle-grade novel debut.
Uss is a seasoned cyclist, having made her own cross-country trip in 1996. Her descriptions of landscapes--"the Ozark Mountains... were more like a monster-sized roller coaster"--challenges and the physical effects on a rider's body all attest to Uss's familiarity with trekking coast to coast, making Bicycle's story all the more believable. --Lana Barnes, freelance reviewer and proofreader