Eleven-year-old Pam Fischer is plucky, bright, and determined. A native of the seaside town of Cape May, New Jersey, she finds that riding her glistening green bicycle is the best way to have fun. But when her bicycle goes missing, Pam must work her first job at a candy shop to earn money for a replacement. In the midst of juggling her summer responsibilities and hunting for her cherished possession, Pam becomes embroiled in an even larger mystery concerning a secret treasure and the rich history of the fascinating town she calls home.
The novel is well-paced and the intrigue is nicely coupled with the quiet Victorian charm of Cape May and its small businesses. For example, The Chocolate Pot is filled with "licorice, taffies, mints, pinwheels, butter creams, sponges, bark, gummies, lollipops, [and] malted milk balls," which is enough to make any reader’s mouth water and typifies the level of attention to sensory detail the reader should expect in most scenes.
Rather cleverly, McCauley also uses the setting to explore issues concerning privacy that are so central to adolescence. Initially, Pam is irritated at the passing tourists, and she considers the guests at her parents' inn to be a constant intrusion. Though Pam is precocious, she is also vulnerable to insult and desperate for privacy. It is precisely this mixture of maturity and fragility, and Pam's very real desire for independence, which makes her such a relatable character.
One cannot help but marvel at McCauley's penchant for crafting fluid, page-turning prose and a tightly knit narrative with a satisfying conclusion. It All Started with a Bicycle exemplifies the hallmarks of the best young adult literature—it not only entertains and delights, but teaches life lessons about the value of selflessness, assertiveness, and persistence.