by Judith Hayn
Hughes, S. (2013). Hero on a bicycle. Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press.
Calame, D. (2012). Call the shots. Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press.
Hero on a Bicycle takes place outside Florence in war-torn 1944 Italy where 13-year-old Paola Crivelli, older sister Constanza, and mother Rosemary struggle to survive German occupation on the family villa. Summer time without school and friends makes for a boring existence, but more adventure and terror soon engulfs the trio as they fight just to feed themselves since the head of the family has mysteriously disappeared to work clandestinely against the occupiers. Paolo’s nightly bicycle jaunts frighten his mother and sister, and he encounters more than he wants 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 all of them in danger. This is a taut thriller, perfect for suspense-filled reading with a budding romance thrown into the harsh realities of war. All three become reluctant heroes, but perhaps none more so than the clever and engaging Paolo who begins by longing for a little excitement in his life and finds it right in his own backyard. Shirley Hughes is an award-winning children’s author and illustrator in the U. K., and this is her first ya book, a perfect choice for middle school boys who are often reluctant readers.
The second novel follows the trio of teen boys who first appeared in Matt’s’s story in Swim the Fly (2009) and Coop’s tale in Beat the Band (2010); now, Sean Hance is the hero in this first-person narrative. Coop has another sure-fire scheme to make them all famous and earn some big bucks. The guys will shoot a low-budget horror film and win a contest for amateurs. Nothing goes as planned despite Sean’s reluctance hampered by his naiveté. The novel is laugh-out-loud funny with lots of raunchy humor that will appeal to the adolescent male. The three pals retain their distinct personalities, and the other characters help advance the general hilarity that ensues. His twin Goth sister Cathy provides snappy and sometimes hurtful insults. Sexy Leyna haunts Sean’s dreams while the weird and scary Evelyn snares him into dating her. Not as deep as the first book reviewed, this one is instead a page-turning farce complete with accompanying slapstick that clicks since the author Don Calame is also a screenwriter. Sean seeks to keep everyone else satisfied while often forgetting who he really is...until Cathy’s bff Nessa reminds him that she may just have the answers.
Dr. Judith A. Hayn is an associate professor at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock.
This article is part of a series from the Special Interest Group Network on Adolescent Literature (SIGNAL).