YA Books With Bikes in Celebration of National Bike Month
One of life’s major rites of passage for kids is learning to ride a bicycle. Remember learning to ride? Maybe not, but like the saying goes, once you learn how, you never forget. If you’re a teen who doesn’t yet have your driver’s license or who does but can’t afford a car, riding a bicycle may be the only way to get around. There’s nothing like grabbing your bike and cycling away when you want to get away from everyone and everything.
To acknowledge the many benefits of bicycling and to get more people to give it a try, in 1956, The League of American Bicyclists (founded as the League of American Wheelman in 1880) established May as National Bike Month. The third Friday of May is designated National Bike to Work Day and The National Center for Safe Routes to School hosts National Bike to School Day the second week of May.
So, help celebrate National Bike Month by jumping on your bicycle and getting outside for some exercise! Afterward, relax and check out these YA fiction and nonfiction “books with bikes.”
Maybe you don’t know how to ride a bike? If so, you can relate to Sarah Dessen’s Along for the Ride (2009) where Auden, about to start college in the fall, decides to escape her control-freak professor mom to spend the summer with her novelist father, his new young wife, and their brand-new baby. Over the course of the summer, Auden tackles many new projects: learning to ride a bike, making real connections with peers, facing the emotional fallout of her parents’ divorce, distancing herself from her mother, and falling in love with Eli, a fellow insomniac bicyclist recovering from his own traumas. Along for the Ride is a 2010 Teens’ Top Ten winner.
Want a how-to book about bicycling? Try reading Rob Coppolillo’s nonfiction Holy Spokes! A Biking Bible for Everyone (2013). In this complete guide, find out how bikes work, why bikes matter (especially today, when gas is expensive and interest in green living is high), and how readers—whatever their level of experience—can indulge their tastes for mountain trails, competitive racing, city exploration, and just basic transportation from point A to point B. (Summary adapted from the publisher’s description.)
Now that you’ve learned how to ride a bike, maybe you’re interested in the social history of bicycling and how it changed women’s lives? If so, take a look at Wheels of Change: How Women Rode the Bicycle to Freedom (With a Few Flat Tires Along the Way) by Sue Macy (2011). Through vintage photographs, advertisements, cartoons, and songs, this lively nonfiction book transports young readers to bygone eras to see how women used the bicycle to improve their lives. Witty in tone and scrapbook-like in presentation, the book deftly covers early (and comical) objections, influence on fashion, and impact on social change inspired by the bicycle, which, according to Susan B. Anthony, “has done more to emancipate women than anything else in the world.” (Summary adapted from publisher’s description.)
(However, for women in Afghanistan, riding a bicycle is taboo. According to a April 16, 2014 article from the New York Times, “What is considered appropriate behavior varies from one family and community to the next, but women riding bicycles is ‘generally considered immoral.’” according to Heather Barr, an Afghanistan researcher for Human Rights Watch)
If historical fiction is more your thing, pick up Hero on a Bicycle by Shirley Hughes (2013). In 1944, thirteen-year-old Paolo Crivelli, his older sister Constanza, and their mother Rosemary struggle to survive the German occupation in their family’s villa outside Florence. Paolo’s nightly bicycle jaunts frighten his mother and sister, and he encounters more than he expects when he runs into Partisans who are determined to thwart the Nazi chokehold on the region. As the Allies approach, each Crivelli must make choices that put them all in danger.
For a book set in the more recent past, read Burning City by Ariel & Joaquín Dorfman (2007). In the sizzling summer of 2001, Heller is the youngest employee of Soft Tidings, a New York City messenger service whose motto is “news with a personal touch.” At Soft Tidings, a message is not handed over but told to the recipient and the messages, as a rule, are not especially good news. Heller prefers his bike to the mandatory Rollerblades, and he gets away with his maniacal bike riding because he is, hands down, the best deliverer of bad news. This summer will be memorable for Heller as he finds himself drawn into the lives of a wildly diverse cast of characters, accidentally falling in love, and relating to people in a whole new way. (Summary from the publisher’s description.)
Are you looking forward to the end of the school year? Maybe you’d like to read how some teens spent their time between high school graduation and college? In Janet Nichols Lynch’s Racing California (2012) Evan is conflicted, but willing to miss his Arizona high school graduation when Dash Shipley, a Tour de France winner, recruits him to join his Amgen Tour of California racing team. Even though his parents and girlfriend are against it, Evan accepts the invitation and gains more experience than he ever expected.
Chris and Win have just graduated from high school and decide to cycle their way from West Virginia to Washington State in Shift by Jennifer Bradbury (2008). On the way they have a disagreement and split up. Chris finishes the trek, heads home to West Virginia and begins college. Soon it becomes apparent that Win never made it to Washington nor returned home. The big question is: where did he go?
Are you in the mood for an award winner? Then you’ll enjoy The White Bicycle (2012) by Beverley Brenna. In this 2013 Printz Honor Award winner, Taylor Jane Simon, 19, who has Asperger’s Syndrome travels with her family to the south of France for the summer and struggles with a difficult mother, a confusing job, new family members, and a friendship with a mentor figure. She draws on memories of her past, and a dream about going someplace on a white bicycle, to make sense of the present in this heart-warming and inspiring coming-of-age story.
If you’re a fan of natural disasters/post-apocalyptic novels then Memory Boy by Will Weaver (2001) is for you. Miles Newell, 16, is a normal teen except that he’s nicknamed Memory Boy because of his exceptionally good memory. Two years after the first volcanic eruption devastated the US, his family and Miles are finally forced to flee their home in Minneapolis. They plan to head to their summer cabin but gasoline is scarce. Luckily, Miles is handy with all sorts of tools and constructs a vehicle made out of bicycle and sailboat parts he calls the Ali Princes.
Finally, if you’re looking for a novel noteworthy for its masterful structure, intrigue, theme of innocence caught by corruption that also has a bicycle trip, there’s nothing better than Robert Cormier’s classic I Am the Cheese (1977). Adam Farmer, on a mysterious bicycle journey, searches for the truth about the death of his parents who were under the witness relocation program. The three levels of this complex psychological plot—Adam’s bike ride in first-person present tense, transcripts of tapes with a sinister interrogator named Brint, and third-person omniscient details about the past—come together at the end.
Who knew there were so many books where bicycling plays a part? And, I didn’t even mention any adult books with teen appeal. Luckily, there’s always next year’s National Bike Month!
Sharon Rawlins, currently reading The Here and Now by Ann Brashares