by Shirley Hughes
a different view of of World War II – the tension of being caught in between
In 1944 in Florence, Italy, Rosemary Crivelli, Paolo’s mother… “knew she should remind him of the dangers of what he was doing and forbid him – forbid him – to go out alone again at night, but somehow she could never find the heart to do it…She reflected grimly on the old cliché that wartime, when not terrifying, was a combination of long stretches of boredom and grinding hardship.”
Paolo can’t stand doing nothing. He sneaks out at night to ride his bike through the city –the tension of breaking the rules brings some excitement to his life. Controlled and commanded by authority that could snap at any moment, Paolo is looking for a way to do something in the chaos that surrounds him. His father left secretly two years ago to join the resistance and now the Crivelli family is under close watch by the ever-present Gestapo. Signora Crivelli is British, another reason to be watched closely by Colonel Ritter – where do the true sympathies of the Crivelli family lie.
Paola thinks his rides are secret, but they are not. Both his mother and 16-year old sister, Constanza know of them. They hear him leave and the lie awake until he returns well after midnight. This last time, Paolo was given a message at gunpoint to take to his mother. That one message removes all hope of being left alone to endure whatever ordinary hardships might come their way. That message brings them into direct contact with Il Volpe, the leader of the Italian resistance and puts them in charge of seeing that the escaped prisoners of war make it back across Allie lines.
Quick thinking and smart decisions barely keep the Crivellies safe through to the liberation of Florence. They suffer when friends bend and break under the pressure of fear and distrust. The witness the horrific cruelty and pain of war and the fearless dedication of those committed to their cause. While I wished for more detail and for the plot to be developed more completely, I appreciate how this original tale, set in a different place and with a unique vantage point, adds to our understanding of World War II. Intermediate and middle grade readers interested in this topic will like Hero on a Bicycle and will be compelled to turn each page as the tension mounts and secrets unfold.