Friday, 31 May 2013

Hero on a Bicycle

Hero on a Bicycle by Shirley Hughes (Walker Books)
PB RRP $ 16.95
ISBN 9781406336115
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

Paolo is thirteen years old when the war reaches the outskirts of Florence where he lives with his English mother Rosemary, and his sister Constanza. His father Franco has left long ago to join the Partisans in their fight against the Fascists and the Germans. His whereabouts remains unknown.

Costanza has a close friendship with Hilaria, daughter of the wealthy Albertinis, admirers of Mussolini. The town whispers that their dealings with Black Market suppliers explains how during a time of lack and hunger, the Albertinis still wear expensive clothes and hold elaborate parties for the German soldiers.

Constanza hates the war and the conditions it has imposed on her life. Paolo longs for excitement and spends each night riding his bike through the streets long after curfew. It is during one of these rides that he is approached by members of the resistance movement and given a message for his mother.

Paolo finds himself and his family harbouring Allied soldiers and embroiled in something that grows bigger each day, with suspicion and the word ‘traitors’ shadowing  their lives. But the danger they experience daily only serves to ignite courage and determination in the family. The siblings leave their childhood behind them as the atrocities they witness wipe away their innocence. The allies are moving ever towards them. Can they stay safe until they arrive, and will they ever see their father again?

This is Shirley Hughes’ first novel. It has waited a long time to be written and in the interesting forward, Shirley explains the roots of this exciting and well-written war adventure, and how she moved from picture books to this novel. Fast-paced and full of tension, it exhibits an excellent sense of place and time with historical facts spicing up the storyline.

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