When a girl is left on the steps of the Mostly Silent Monastery in Washington, D.C., wearing a shirt adorned with a picture of a bicycle, the practical Sister Wanda names her Bicycle.
Living with Sister Wanda and the mostly silent monks, 12-year-old Bicycle has found a contented existence, which reaches near perfection when she rescues a battered bicycle, lovingly dubs it Clunk and spends every spare moment cycling around town. Sister Wanda, worried that Bicycle has no friends, arranges for her to attend a friendship camp. Dismayed, Bicycle plots out a cross-country route to San Francisco to see her cycling idol, Zbig Sienkiewicz, and slips away on trusty Clunk.
Bicycle’s subsequent adventures have a modern fairy-tale charm. She and Clunk encounter a succession of quirky yet good-hearted characters, such as Griffin, a Civil War-era ghost, and the chef Marie Petitchou. Each chapter captures a snapshot of Americana: Bicycle leads a horse to the finish line at the Kentucky Derby, is mowed down by pigs on parade in Missouri and crosses the Continental Divide. Readers willing to suspend disbelief and roll with the silliness are rewarded with an enriched understanding of America’s vast landscapes and more than a couple easy-to-digest life lessons.