Zoe, Max and the Bicycle Bus

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Herrick, Steven, Zoe, Max and the Bicycle Bus, University of Queensland Press, September 2020, 239 pp., RRP $16.99 (pbk), ISBN 9780702263002

Zoe, Max and the Bicycle Bus is a book told in verse.

I’ve only read books in verse aimed at YA readers at the higher end of the teen-age range, so I wasn’t sure what to expect with this book. In truth, I find verse to be intimidating, and sometimes veering towards the more complex end of things – more than it needs to be.

Herrick, however, writes clearly, with easily relatable topics the young readers targeted will be able to enjoy.

But, what I find interesting about this book is that the title and the blurb don’t actually reflect the diversity, and complex families and relationships within the book.

While the culmination of this book is in the kids learning about bicycles and the positive effect on the environment (as well as breaking a few rules along the way), I honestly found everything else going on in the book more thought-provoking as Herrick has a gift for clear characterisation, in verse no less.

Herrick takes young readers into class 5D, which among others consists of Dabir, who is Arabic; Jordi who has questions about his biological dad and has to learn what his step-dad brings to his life; Lily and her mother who are learning to move past the grief of losing Lily’s dad; and Max whose dad is teetering on the line of being a soccer-dad tyrant,

The book immerses readers into these children’s lives, as well as others in the book not mentioned here. Herrick manages to use verse to portray sensitive children, with excellent and more importantly, relatable characterisation. Each child is dealing with different issues in their lives and are finding ways to make sense of these.

That said, it’s not that the book isn’t about a bicycle bus, or environmental issues, but it’s a smaller part of the book than I expected given the title. The author paces out these mentions through the book, allowing the kids in class, like readers, to learn and understand the importance of environmentalism and what’s happening in the world around them.

This eventuates in the bicycle bus in school, and out of school. That itself lends itself to another theme that the blurb doesn’t actually reflect: the friendships that develop outside of school. Part of this narrative is how this diverse group of children find common ground and become firmer friends than they were in the beginning of the book.

Ultimately, I think this is a book that offers more than the title would suggest.

Reviewed by Verushka Byrow

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