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Francesca and the Magic Bike

by Cynthia Nugent

“Hippogriff, don’t fail me now!” is the plea that 10-year-old Francesca (Frankie), on a quest to recover a special ring, makes to her awesome bike. Frankie begins her adventure with frissons of doubt about whether Hippogriff – which is capable of mechanical magic and can also take direction from its rider’s memories and emotions – can get her where she needs to go. Readers may likewise have their doubts about whether Vancouver illustrator Cynthia Nugent, in her first novel, can pull off the story’s delicate alchemy of tragedy, comedy, fantasy, and adventure. But she does, wonderfully and artfully.

After the death of her mother, Frankie goes to live with her father, Ron Rudderless, whom she has never met. A nervous chatterbox, Frankie is responsible and mature beyond her years. Her alcoholic musician father, however, is a poster child for arrested development. Despite his growing love for Frankie, he’s still unable to take care of himself, let alone his daughter. When Augusta, the elderly next-door neighbour who has befriended her, learns that Frankie is to be taken into foster care, she dispatches her on a mission to find a magical ring stolen decades ago by her estranged sister.

Not surprisingly to anyone familiar with Nugent’s lively, comic illustrations, her novel exhibits a similar wry, warm sense of humour and keen-eyed affection for human nature, foibles and all. Though there is a decidedly Dickensian comic flavour to the characters’ names and eccentricities, they are realized with emotional truth, all touched in their own way by loss, regret, and disappointment. As Frankie learns to be a child on a journey filled with friendship, fun, and risk, Ron learns to be an adult and parent in this marvellously comic, wise, and tender novel.