The narrator of Beverley Brenna’s YA (young adult) novel The White Bicycle is Taylor Jane Simon, a nineteen-year-old with Asperger’s Syndrome, a term used to indicate high functioning alongside the spectrum of abilities associated with autism. In this story, Taylor, who is Canadian, travels to the south of France, where she has a summer job looking after a boy with a physical disability. Taylor makes an unexpected friend in an elderly woman with whom she finds much in common. When Taylor receives an invitation to visit this friend in another village, Taylor will have to stand up to her mother and assert her independence. This is a moving story about growing up and overcoming obstacles. Links to existential theatre offer a rich literary framework that deepens Taylor’s characterization. Though it can be read alone, The White Bicycle is the third book in Brenna’s Wild Orchid trilogy. It was nominated in 2013 for a Governor General’s Literary Award.
“Eleven years have passed since the day my dad left. I turned nineteen on my last
birthday, and I was glad not to have a birthday party. I have not had a birthday party since I was eight, and I am happy about that. I do not like birthday parties, just like Stanley did not like birthday parties in Harold Pinter’s play, The Birthday Party. Party games frightened Stanley, while they disgusted me, so we have a slightly different perspective about this. But Stanley said he preferred to go out quietly on his own to celebrate, which is exactly how I feel about it.
‘None of those girls are my friends,’ I told my father when he came to get me out of my bedroom for the second time the day of my eighth birthday. Dad talked softly to me, bending down so he could see me under the bed. Then he got loud and he started pulling on my legs. Dad finally dragged me downstairs and I was kicking and screaming.
‘Here comes The Freaker,’ I heard one girl whisper. That was the name they called me at school and I hated it.”
1. In The White Bicycle, we learn that in the past, Taylor was a victim of bullying. Imagine that you were at Taylor’s eighth birthday party, but that you were the sort of friend who would stand up for Taylor. Write a short monologue — include what you might say to Taylor’s bully, and also what you might say to comfort Taylor.
2. Some youngsters with autism find comfort, as Taylor does in the excerpt above, by curling up in small places. Imagine what is going through Taylor’s mind when she is hiding under the bed. Write a stream-of-consciousness piece in which you include Taylor’s fears, her observations from under the bed, and also the comfort she takes in her secret place.
3. Taylor is a courageous young woman. Despite her difficulty dealing with changes in her environment, she will find a way to make the trip to visit her friend in another village. Change is difficult for all of us. Write a short scene in which an imaginary character is reluctant to make a change (such as moving to a new neighbourhood, attending a new school or accepting a new step-parent). Include a transformative moment that causes your character to accept the change in his or her circumstances.