________________ CM . . . . Volume XIX Number 19. . . .January 18, 2013


The White Bicycle.

Beverley Brenna.
Markham, ON: Red Deer Press/Fitzhenry & Whiteside, 2012.
198 pp., pbk., $12.95.
ISBN 978-0-88995-483-0.

Subject Headings:
Asperger’s syndrome-Juvenile fiction.
Autonomy in adolescence-Juvenile fiction.

Grades 8 and up / Ages 13 and up.

Review by Kristin Butcher.

**** /4



I wonder when my mother started making me anxious, instead of making me calm. When I was little and she was in my classroom, sitting on a chair with her flowered handbag on the floor, I felt happy and relieved that she was there. She doesn't make me feel happy and relieved any more. This might be the difference between an island of stability and a prison.


In 2005, Beverley Brenna published Wild Orchid and introduced readers to Taylor Jane Simon, an 18-year-old girl with Asperger's Syndrome, a condition characterized by autistic-like behaviours. In 2010, Brenna came back with Waiting for No One, and readers followed Taylor as she ventured further along the road to independence via university, a trip to Wyoming, and a part-time job at a bookstore. Now Taylor has returned for the third and final time in The White Bicycle.

     In this installment, Taylor, her mother, her mother's boyfriend, and his two sons, Luke and Martin, are spending the summer in the south of France. Martin has cerebral palsy, and Taylor has been hired to be his personal care assistant during the mornings. This is a position she plans on adding to her resume in the hope that it will help her secure a good job when she returns to Saskatoon, something she knows she must have if she is ever to assert her independence from her mother and find her own way in the world.

     Taylor's condition wasn't diagnosed until she was eleven and, as a result, her inability to socialize in acceptable ways was misinterpreted by her teachers and classmates, and their reactions caused even more difficulties, including bullying and undeserved chastisement. Needless to say, Taylor's early school memories are not happy ones.

     Once diagnosed, professionals helped Taylor understand how she is different and gave her strategies to help her cope with those differences. She still struggles with language and communication, but she now knows how to tackle things out that don't make sense and to walk away when they threaten to overwhelm her. She is also better at controlling her emotions and her obsessive-compulsive tendency to clean when she is upset.

     One of her goals while in France is to examine her past and align it with her hopes for the future. Toward this end she is keeping a journal.

This journal is to investigate my thoughts and feelings, like my English teacher advised me to do. It is to take the steps I have collected in my journey so far—en cachette, the French would say—and privately explore them as best I can. It is also to write about the dreams that carry me forward. It is not to blame anyone for my misery, or my joy; it just tells it like it is.

     Taylor is also embracing the teachings of existential philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre to help her make sense of who she is and lead her toward independence.

There is a little gray book on the wooden bookshelf in my bedroom here in France that intrigues me. It is a discussion of consciousness, by Jean-Paul Sartre. Jean-Paul Sartre says that it is critical to select the order of our bits of knowledge, to set things out in a way that makes sense in our own personal search for freedom. That is what I am considering now as I sort through my memories and begin this journal. What to put first, what to put second, and where to place all the things that must somehow fit together to compose a person, to create a life. My life, such as it is.

     The White Bicycle is the vehicle for Taylor's journey to personal understanding and what it means to be independent. One cannot help but observe this more mature Taylor and reflect on who she was two books ago and marvel at how she has grown. This novel rounds out Taylor's development perfectly, and the reader is hopeful for her future. As Brenna, herself, says—having Asperger's means seeing the world in a different way, not in a defective way.

Highly Recommended.

Kristin Butcher is a writer who lives in Campbell River, BC.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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