It’s always disappointing when we miss the opportunity to blow our horn for a really good book — but in this case the ARC arrived too late to review in the Magazine. Fortunately, this year’s Printz committee found it in time to award it an Honor and get it the recognition it deserves. And here’s a bit more.
The White Bicycle (published in November 2012 by Canada’s Red Deer Press) is the final book in Beverley Brenna’s trilogy centered on Taylor Simon, a teenager from Saskatchewan with Asperger’s syndrome. Here she’s nineteen and in the south of France, babysitting for a boy with cerebral palsy, forming some unlikely friendships, coping with her controlling mother, and working toward independence. Taylor — her voice, her personality — has a lot in common with Christopher in Mark Haddon’s Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time and Ted in Siobhan Dowd’s London Eye Mystery: distinctive, honest, unemotional yet deeply moving, and even (inadvertently) funny.
But note that Taylor is a female character with Asperger’s — and that alone would probably be enough to take note of this book. There aren’t that many. And yet this book is much less about living with Asperger’s and much more about living, period. It’s a coming-of-age novel, not an Asperger’s novel; it’s a novel about Taylor, not a novel about a girl with Asperger’s. (I trust I’ve hammered home that point thoroughly enough.)
Take nineteen-year-old Taylor’s friendship with ninety-five-year-old Adelaide. Taylor has Asperger’s; Adelaide has dementia. Yet their friendship is true, rewarding for them both, and, for the reader, poignant to the max. And on the admiring-the-writing side, the scenes between the two of them are as carefully and intricately choreographed as a dance.
Take Taylor’s insights into life. I’d call it wisdom, but that makes the novel seem too weighty. “I decide not to think about my trip to Cassis just now. Sometimes, it’s better to not think about things all of the time when you can think about them only some of the time and be calmer.” “It is common for very old people to die. Her daughter said that it was to be expected. But I did not expect it.”
Brenna’s ability to let readers see the world through Taylor’s eyes is extraordinary.
And Taylor herself is an extraordinary character. I hope readers find this book. Meanwhile, I’ll be looking to read the first two books in the Wild Orchid trilogy. Thanks again, Printz committee.
Read the Horn Book’s reviews of this year’s other Printz picks here.