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Last year I picked up Joan Bauer’s Hope Was Here because the cover looked delicious. The YA novel didn’t disappoint so I’ve been meaning to read more of her books. It took more than a year to circle back. She’s one of many many many authors whose complete works I’d love to pack into a suitcase and hunker down in a cabin or a tree house with.

(To be clear, by tree house I mean wood walls with a roof built into a tree, not a big cardboard box nailed to a sort of sturdy branch i.e. my dad’s interpretation. That was a fun childhood surprise I should probably get over already.)

Rules of the Road has another sneaky cover that hooked me on first sight. Even without the cover, I melt into a puddle of gimme gimme at the mention of a good road trip story.

rulesftheroad16-year-old Jenna Boller lives in a Chicago apartment with her younger sister and divorced, third-shift working mom she rarely sees. Her life has some good – awesome best friend and job she loves – and some bad – dodging her alcoholic father who pops up whenever he feels like it and watching the grandma she adores descend into Alzheimer’s. Summer rolls around and spending as many hours as possible working at Gladstone Shoe Store isn’t enough of a distraction. An opportunity to take a break walks through the door when Mrs. Madeline Gladstone hires Jenna to drive her to Texas, stopping at her other store locations along the way.

I’m going to eat barbecue and learn the two-step and wear a cowboy hat and touch an oil rig.

This isn’t the type of teenage rite of passage wandering ride I expected. The two women make a pragmatic pair. The first challenge is a big one: Mrs. Gladstone insists on being driven in her boat of a Cadillac and Jenna has six months of light driving experience. With retirement and senior year looming, change is on the horizon for both so much of the journey is about them helping each other learn to face an uncertain future head on.

There’s something about holding onto a steering wheel and feeling the miles drift away from you as you push farther and farther away from what you once knew.

As I’m trying to get comfortable behind the wheel again, I appreciated the simple joy Jenna finds in driving some place new. And the tips on finding quality shoes will be put to use. Last time I needed fancy shoes I wound up with first a pair that cut up my feet, then one so odd-fitting I walked right out of them on the slimy subway platform. Neither were worn more than once.

The zen driving tips alone make it worth a read:

When she was stressed behind the wheel, she’d make the other drivers around her seem real.  She’d ask herself what they did for a living, what kind of lives did they lead?

I like to give aggressive drives a big smile and a thumbs up. It makes me feel better and when the recipient notices it seems to weird them out a little, gets in their head and they give me my space.

One of the things I loved in both of the Bauer books I’ve read is the impact showing a little kindness has on her characters. Plus it was really nice to find a YA novel that’s not centered around love or supernatural power. It’s a warm story of growth, but it’s not all sunshine and pie. Though Jenna’s self-conscious about her appearance and her drunk dad, she works hard and enjoys helping people. She’s a down-to-earth, normal teenage girl trying to deal with hardships in her life by focusing on the good things. This is a satisfying, quick read I’ll definitely recommend to teens should any stop me on the street demanding book recommendations.

 

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