Thursday, January 10, 2008

Joan Bauer

Hope Was Here
by Joan Bauer
Recommended Age: 14+

Food, family and politics come together in this 2001 Newbery Honor Book by the author of the highly acclaimed Rules of the Road.

Here's what narrator Hope Yancey has to say about her philsophy of life:
I don't expect life to be easy. It hasn't been yet and I'm not holding out for smooth sailing in the future. Not everyone likes this philosophy, but it makes sense to me because when life hits the skids, I don't have to regroup as much as the people who walk around in a cloud like the world owes them a joyful existence.
Obviously, Hope has suffered some major disappointments. The first is her mother, who walked out on her when she was just a preemie struggling for life. Raised by her feisty Aunt Addie, a short-order cook, she begins waitressing on her fourteenth birthday as the two of them move from city to city, making a difference in people's lives through soul food. Their latest gig was in Brooklyn, where their partner in the best diner in town has just fled with all their money. So, in desperation, they accept an offer from a diner in the small town of Mulhoney, Wisconsin.

Hope isn't sure about this, at first. For one thing, it's tough leaving behind her friends and big city life. For another, the owner of the diner is G. T. Stoop, a widower fighting leukemia, who suddenly takes it in his head to run for mayor of Mulhoney--which doesn't sit too well with the crooked incumbent mayor or the big business that supports him. As Hope and her new friends get involved in the campaign, they learn first-hand about political corruption, violence, intimidation, and the excitement and frustration of trying to make a difference to the community.

Meanwhile, Hope enjoys a little romance, a lot of action in the waitressing field, and a chance to help the mother of a developmentally disabled child. But will this cold, quiet little town be home for keeps? Will she learn to deal with the heartbreak every visit from her mother brings? Will she find the father she has always dreamed of having? And will G.T.'s campaign--not to mention his health--carry him across the finish line?

This is an exceptional young-readers' novel, told with a strong voice and plenty of humor, and liable to catch you up in its whirl of competing emotions. Enjoy it, and keep an eye out for other interestingly-titled books by Joan Bauer including Backwater, Squashed, and Thwonk.

Rules of the Road
by Joan Bauer
Recommended Age: 12+

From the author of Hope Was Here comes this acclaimed 1998 book about 16-year-old Jenna Boller, who knows a lot about selling shoes and a little about driving. On these qualifications she gets the unasked-for job of driving Mrs. Gladstone, the President of the shoe-store chain she works for, from Chicago to Dallas for the big shareholders' meeting. And though her mother isn't keen on letting Jenna go, the fact that her alcoholic father has come back to town ensures that she needs some time away.

So Jenna gets behind the wheel of a big white Cadillac and sets off on a journey to learn a lot about the road, the shoe industry, personal grief, and the strength to fight back against adversity. Jenna has enough adversity in her own young life: a grandmother with Alzeimer's disease, a much prettier younger sister who depends on Jenna too much, and, of course, her drunk father. Poor Mrs. Gladstone has problems too: a hip that needs replacing, a son who wants to push her out of the company, and a legacy of selling quality shoes for a fair price to protect.

Jenna also meets a brassy retired shoe model, a heroic super-shoe-salesman, and a lot of other people from the stranger who performs random acts of kindness to the backstabbing heir, Eldon, who wants to sell out. Turning shoe spy, she sniffs out good and bad sales practices in stores from Peoria to Shreveport. And she also gets a beauty makeover and a firm push toward womanhood, not to mention lessons in corporate warfare and in coping with her father's alcoholism.

Narrated with cleverness and spunk, emotionally rich, this is a very satisfying young-adult novel and also an educational look at the shoe industry: a world unfamiliar to most of us, so that it almost qualifies as "fantasy." But it's a very truthful fantasy, nonetheless.

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