While the fuel shortage premise might make this sound like a story that grapples with political and environmental issues, all of that takes a back seat to the story of how one family of kids manages on their own for a summer. With their parents stuck out of town without a way to get home, the kids have to decide how much responsibility to shoulder and how much they should “be the parents” (as Dewey and Lil say to each other). Throw in a little bit of a mystery, a cranky next-door neighbor, and a lot of bikes, and this turns into a great story.
Dewey narrates the story, and he’s the kind of narrator who pulls you in close and lets you feel all the tension and the weight of running the bike repair shop. The younger kids add some comic relief and Lil, the oldest, alternates between being the responsible one and spending her days creating a barn-sized mural. Strangely, she’s the only one of the older three who ends up having much time to call her own, and I started to wonder why Dewey didn’t resent that more. On the other hand, Dewey is stuck in the repair shop because that’s his choice – he doesn’t want to turn anyone away. I thoroughly enjoyed seeing how the kids would solve their problems, with a little help from the community and some creative thinking. It also really made me want to go for a bike ride, so watch out.
In addition to the managing-without-parents issues, the book deals in a wonderfully non-preachy way with a sense of personal responsibility. There are things that are mentioned but never dwelt on, because they’re simply the way the kids live. Chores like egg-gathering and goat-milking are part of their routine, and the family has an extensive garden that provides them with fresh and canned produce. They manage just fine on bikes, and you get the feeling that they did that even before the gas shortage, except for trips to get bike parts or groceries. They help out neighbors and their neighbors help them. Like I said, all very non-preachy but still an important part of the story – although it never takes away from the other tensions and the suspense of the mystery or when their parents will make it home.
I’d peg this as a great middle school read, based on the age of the characters and the way they deal with responsibilities, but there’s nothing here that would be inappropriate for a strong younger (unless you count the occasional “hell”).
Source: my library